‘BACK TO YOU’
Tonight Fox premieres an old-fashioned sitcom with nothing much going for it but Kelsey Grammer, Patricia Heaton and a pretty funny set of screenwriters.
“Back To You” is a great reminder talent — and not concept — is ultimately what drives a television show.
Grammer (in his first series since “Frasier”) stars as Chuck Darling, a big shot news anchor who, after unleashing a long on-air tirade riddled with f-bombs, finds himself back at the gimcrack station in Pittsburgh where his career began years ago. There he’s reunited with his old coanchor, Kelly Carr (played by Heaton in her first series since “Everybody Loves Raymond”).
It was their incredible chemistry on the anchor desk, in fact, that ignited his career … except, it turns out, they hated each other. Make that hate, present tense: “I cannot do this with you again, you preening gasbag,” the exasperated Kelly exclaims after taping their first promo, and the barbs fly thick, fast and sharp from there.
Created by veteran producers Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd, who between them have worked on probably half the hit sitcoms of the past two decades (“Frasier,” “Wings,” “The Golden Girls” and “Just Shoot Me,” to name only a few) and starring two of the most dependably funny people in television in Grammer and Heaton, “Back to You” is a monument to solid professionalism.
The show’s hoary formula has been used in everything from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” to “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” and “Back to You” doesn’t do anything new, it just does it very well.
Whether it’s the archetypal characters like weather girl Montana Diaz Herrera, extravagantly rolling her R’s like a telenovela queen even though she’s only one-eighth Nicaraguan, or the dialogue (Kelly on her expectations from a boyfriend: “I like a relationship where the guy isn’t trying to sleep with my sister”), you just can’t get through two minutes of “Back to You” without a belly laugh.
That’s true even in the rare moments when Grammer and Heaton aren’t on-screen, thanks to a splendid supporting cast that includes Fred Willard (“American Pie 3”) as the unctuously daft sportscaster Marsh McGinley; stage actor Josh Gad as rookie news director Ryan Church (“I’ve been on the news side for quite a few weeks now”); Ayda Field (“Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”) as the oversexed weather girl; and Laura Marano (“Without a Trace”) as Kelly’s 10-year-old daughter, Gracie.
Use up all your laughs on “Back To You,” because you certainly won’t be needing them the rest of the night.
Fox’s “Kitchen Nightmares” may induce a wide variety of reactions from audiences, ranging from projectile vomiting to existential confusion that a universe created by a just and merciful God would permit such a program, but chuckles and guffaws will not be among them.
Hosted by Gordon Ramsay, the ill-tempered and foulmouthed chef who makes the cooking-reality show “Hell’s Kitchen” one of television’s most unpleasant hours, “Kitchen Nightmares” plays like one of those excruciating dreams you have the night after an anchovy-and-pineapple pizza. Ramsay takes over restaurants knee-deep in cockroaches and fungus (not to mention managers who rank a couple of steps lower than those on the evolutionary scale) and, by screaming the f-word a few thousand times, magically transforms them into Michelin three-stars in a week’s time.
The show’s boorishness is exceeded only by its dissimulation; not one frame of this thing — from the diners who seem not to notice that their table is surrounded by camera crews to the melodramatically villainous managers — is believable. “Kitchen Nightmares” has achieved a rare distinction: It’s the least credible reality show on television.
Of course, that’s only because we haven’t seen “Kid Nation” yet. CBS refused to make an episode available in advance for review purposes, probably because they would have had to enclose a scratch-n-sniff card to convey the stench of death already wafting around the thing.
The show’s premise might be titled “Survivor: Lord of the Flies Edition.” Forty kids ages 8 to 15 spend six weeks in a New Mexican ghost town, without parents or teachers, constructing a new society. Except the “ghost town” is actually a movie set; the producers got the show declared a summer camp to exploit a loophole in child-labor law.
And as for the “no teachers or parents” stuff, pay no attention to the hundreds of doctors, shrinks, social workers, cameramen, animal wranglers and probably even official network astrologers lurking just off-camera. Reality TV has never seemed so unreal.
“Back to You,” 7 p.m., Fox
“Kid Nation, 7 p.m., CBS
“Kitchen Nightmares,” 8 p.m., Fox
“Gossip Girl,” 8 p.m., The CW