A series called "Rodney" based on the life of a stand-up comedian? Oh boy, it sounds like a vehicle for the great Rodney Dangerfield, even though he's been undergoing various surgeries lately and may not quite be up to fighting speed.
Anyway, that's all beside the point because it turns out there's another comic named Rodney running around: Rodney Carrington, whom you may never have heard of but who still gets an eponymous sitcom on ABC, perhaps because ABC isn't in a very good position to say "no" these days. Premiering tonight at 9:30 on Channel 7, "Rodney" is basically your standard domestic sitcom in the tradition of "According to Jim," if that can be called a tradition, with a blue-collar Everyslob at its soft center.
Rodney Carrington plays, get this, Rodney Hamilton, a well-meaning Tulsa bumpkin whose job on an assembly line bores him so much that he up and quits -- even after getting a promotion. He wants to pursue his dream of being a stand-up comic, though Tulsa sounds like an awfully unlikely place to do it.
The show would be more intriguing, and much more of a challenge to its writers, if Rodney were a stand-up comic who dreamed of working on an assembly line, but people in show business cling to the assumption that everyone else wants to be in show business too. Rodney is essentially a good-hearted good ol' boy who loves hanging around with his goofy friends. He's a man of his word, too; when he loses a ridiculous bet on the golf course, he dutifully pays the ridiculous consequences: He runs naked through the local Wal-Mart.
If that's a plug for Wal-Mart, so be it. Earlier in the show there's a plug for "Good Morning America." So be that, too.
"Rodney" is obviously a "nice" series with little to distinguish it, but to its credit, it doesn't kill time with a meat cleaver the way some shows do. It kills it with kindness. At home, where he should spend more time, Rodney has two adorable little boys from the adorable-little-boy department of Central Casting and an even more adorable wife: Jennifer Aspen as Trina, who is not too thrilled to hear that Rodney has quit his job after getting promoted but is far from the type to conk him on the head with a frying pan.
Aspen has an instantly appealing glow about her, making her the kind of dream wife any man starring in a sitcom would be lucky to get. It's a pity, then, that Carrington is so blank and inexpressive much of the time, even when describing how allegedly passionate he is about the stand-up comedy fixation. Sometimes Carrington seems to disappear into his own show. Even so, there's a basic likability under the placid, flaccid exterior.
We don't get to see much of his supposedly indigenous humor. At one point he jokes that when visiting a strip joint, he's like a woman in a shoe store: "I'm not leavin' till I see every pair." Ha ha ha ha ha. On second thought, make that three ha's. Perhaps 21/2. Later, the show stoops low when Rodney asks for guidance from above, sitting on his bed and speaking out loud: "Lord, it's Rodney. I know we ain't talked in a while." Little Margaret O'Brien could get away with that in 1946, but in 2004, from a grown man, it's embarrassing.
A subplot about Rodney forgetting the date of his wife's birthday (shades of "I Love Lucy," for corn's sake) leads persuasively to a happy ending, and though Rodney has hardly found nirvana for himself and his family as the premiere ends, there's reason to believe that watching him pursue it each week could be palatable and maybe even pleasurable.
Besides, television has changed so much since the invasion of the reality shows that prime time now actually has a deficiency of decent, chuckle-worthy sitcoms. "Rodney" won't be winning any Peabodys, but it might end up winning a few hearts.