Dec. 03--Kirstie: Sitcom. 10 p.m. Wednesday on TV Land.
If you're surprised to learn that "Kirstie" is not as sophisticated as "Modern Family" or as edgy as "Legit," you probably don't watch much TV Land.
Kirstie Alley's new sitcom, premiering Wednesday, is fairly standard fare for TV Land, which has done quite well finding continued work for cast members of fondly remembered sitcoms of the past. The formula has been successful with "Hot in Cleveland," with Valerie Bertinelli, Betty White, Jane Leeves and Wendie Malick, but didn't work with "Happily Divorced" with Fran Drescher. It doesn't work with "The Exes" either (Kristen Johnston, Wayne Knight, Donald Faison), but that show has done well enough to avoid cancellation.
"Kirstie" isn't as good as "Hot in Cleveland," but not as bad as "The Exes." That should give it a decent shot at whatever passes for longevity on TV.
Alley plays Madison Banks, a Broadway actress of a certain age because everyone on TV Land shows is of a certain age. She's self-involved and self-deprecating at the same time. She has a small staff that includes her assistant, Thelma (Rhea Perlman, "Taxi") and her driver, Frank (Michael Richards, "Seinfeld").
One night, after leaving the theater, she's greeted by a dorky, dull-witted guy named Arlo Barth (Eric Petersen, "GCB") who announces he's the son she gave up for adoption 26 years ago.
The reunion doesn't go well. While she is glamorous and vain, and sucks the air out of any room she's in, he works at a New Jersey doughnut joint called the Glazed Hole. It's a match made in a sitcom writers' room.
The comedy is predictable on every level, which is part of the TV Land formula. Because the channel trades on recycling actors, it's sure not going to obviate its efforts by asking the actors to, you know, act. That's why Jane Leeves is just an older version of "Frasier's" Daphne, Malick an unevolved version of Nina Van Horn in "Just Shoot Me," and Knight is still weird as he was as "Seinfeld's" Newman.
There are funny moments, albeit predictable ones, but there are also moments that edge on cruelty. It's funny, to a point, that Maddie is so self-involved she finds her son a lumpy annoyance, but while the humor is generally at her character's expense, the joke often begins with Arlo being demeaned in one way or another.
All three lead actors in "Kirstie" stick to the tried and true: Perlman's character cracks wise and cynical, Richards is rubber-limbed and kind of crazy, and Alley is snarky.
Two interesting points here: First, this is Richards' return to series TV after that little onstage meltdown captured in all its racist ignominy on cell phone video. Second, it doesn't feel coincidental that Perlman's character is named Thelma, because she has always been a later generation's reincarnation of the great character actress Thelma Ritter. Among Ritter's memorable deadpan roles was Birdie in "All About Eve," which just happened to be about an aging Broadway actress named Margo Channing (Bette Davis) with a terminal case of self-involvement.
David Wiegand is The San Francisco Chronicle's executive features editor and TV critic. E-mail: email@example.com Twitter: @WaitWhat_TV
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