Monday, December 9, 2013

Is KIRSTIE Still a Star?

Article first published as Is KIRSTIE Still a Star? on TheTVKing.

TVLand is known for creating new sitcoms that feel dated. They do this by hiring the stars of old shows and putting them in a familiar tone with similar writing. It's not the freshest, most original method of making television, but it tends to satisfy TVLand viewers, who tune in to watch the classics, if Hot in Cleveland's success is any indication.

The latest entry into this genre is Kirstie, which premiered this week with a double episode, "Pilot; Arlo Moves In." As one might expect, the show stars Kirstie Alley (Cheers, Veronica's Closet), though rather than playing a character named after the actress, her role is that of Maddie Banks, a Broadway star. That's kind of strange, considering that the title of the series really has no connection at all to the story or characters. But it should serve to draw fans of Alley in. Make no mistake, her fans are out there, as she can truly act well when she wants to.

In the "Pilot," Arlo Barth (Eric Petersen), whom Maddie gave up for adoption many years ago, finds his biological mother after the woman that raised him dies and quickly insinuates himself into Maddie's life. By the second half hour, "Arlo Moves In," they are sharing an apartment. Arlo is a man-child who is very rough around the edges, but he'll teach Maddie to care as she tries to teach him how to adjust to her world. It'll probably be a slow learning curve in order to preserve the premise as long as possible.

Maddie really doesn't have friends, just employees who she spends her time with, so she has plenty of room in her life for Arlo. One wonders what she did with all her free time pre-Arlo, but Kirstie doesn't dwell on that, sticking to a few, simple routines Arlo can work himself in to, and putting Maddie out of her element just a little bit to provide some fodder in the other direction.

Kirstie is enjoyable, but it's not because of the story. This sitcom is as formulaic as possible, and the situation feels off, especially because there is no notable connection between Maddie and Arlo in temperament nor in looks. The plot is predictable and thin. Growth will be extremely slow, if it ever comes.

But the cast is terrific. Not Petersen, so much, who serves his purpose, but is overshadowed by the veterans surrounding him. Kirstie plays Maddie exactly how so many have though of her over the years - a diva whose talent doesn't quite measure up to the reality. Rhea Perlman, Kirstie's Cheers co-star, joins her as gruff assistant and friend Thelma. Michael Richards, who had his own fall from grace post-Seinfeld, is Kirstie's weird driver, Frank. The three play parts similar to what they're known for playing, and those skills were honed in a couple of the best comedy series ever made. Toss in hilarious, better-be-recurring roles for Kristen Chenoweth (Pushing Daisies, Wicked) as Maddie's understudy and Christopher McDonald (Harry's Law) as her on-stage leading man, and you have an enjoyable program.

Now, is that enough to build an entirely new show on? Not on any other network, surely, but on TVLand, which hangs on to the past, rather than looking to break new ground or create something special in its own right, it just may have a chance. Especially because, flaws included, it's still better than most of its peers on the network.

Kirstie airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on TVLand.

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