Saturday, October 3, 2009

Pilot Review: Hank

Hank (ABC)
Premiered September 30 at 8pm

Shaping a show around a star is a good, understandable idea if the actor in question can really carry a series. Kelsey Grammer proved that long ago when he made the successful transition from supporting actor on “Cheers” to anchoring its wildly successful spin-off “Frasier,” which ran for eleven years. Grammer’s abilities aren’t in question here, but rather if he’s actually playing a new character or just hamming it up with his best Frasier impression on a different series where the radio psychiatrist has no business being.

“Hank” is an extraordinary relevant, timely series in the way that it highlights a very current societal issue. A successful CEO is canned by the board of his company and has to move his family back to humbler beginnings in a suburb in Virginia. It’s the ultimate downgrade for this family that’s used to luxury. Hank’s wife Tilly is used to having hired help around the house, and his children Maddie and Henry are used to having lots of space to themselves. As for Hank, he hasn’t had much of a relationship with his family recently, and doesn’t know what to do with his newfound free time and family-rearing responsibilities.

This all sounds like a good premise, but the execution isn’t smooth. The Pryor family dynamic is nothing original, and the jokes about diminished wealth get old really fast. Hank’s kids are about as animated as the children on “Gary Unmarried,” which means they’re generally worthless and uninteresting but occasionally come through with a surprisingly entertaining quirk. Melinda McGraw, playing matriarch Tilly, has lost all of the spark and energy which made her “Mad Men” guest appearance as Bobbie Barrett so incredible and intensely watchable. And then there’s Grammer. He overdoes each and every one of his lines, playing even the smallest, most insignificant joke for big laughs. The trouble is, not every moment is meant to be majestic, and as a result of his misplaced overenthusiasm, none of them really work.

How will it work as a series? Episode one was ground zero for the most transformational event in the life of the Pryor family. From here, things can only go downhill. If big to small jokes can’t cut it, it’s not likely that less monumental adjustments will be as entertaining. Starting out with low expectations isn’t a good thing, and this show’s first outing isn’t promising.
How long will it last? This is the worst-reviewed of ABC’s four new shows, and that’s not great. I can’t imagine this show being worthy of a second season unless it completely reinvents itself with a new hook. I’m also pretty sure that ABC will want to keep its two-hour comedy pack together, and even Grammer’s poorer previous show, “Back to You,” made it through its first season. It could fail before then, but I think this show may have a year of life in it.

Pilot grade: C-