Is it possible to have a successful career without the past coming back to haunt you? How can you reconcile it with your present without negatively impacting your future? That's part of the premise behind TV Land's new, but familiar, sitcom "Kirstie," which followed one actress trying to come to terms with her past as she started work on another role. The results were mixed at best because the laughs were there, but the show was playing it too safe to reveal any true surprises.
"Kirstie" followed Broadway star Madison Banks (Kirstie Alley) who enjoyed working and playing even harder. She was gearing up for the opening of her new play, but she received an even bigger in the form of Arlo Barth (Eric Petersen). It turned out that Arlo was the son that she gave up for adoption 26 years ago. He decided to look for her in light of the recent death of his adoptive mother. Maddie was completely shocked by Arlo's appearance and felt completely out of her element in being a mother that she rejected him at first multiple times, until she slowly embraced his presence. It also helped that Maddie's long time assistant Thelma Katz (Rhea Perlman) and her uniquely qualified chauffeur Frank Baxter (Michael Richards) were around to show Arlo the ropes in order to become part of his biological mother's world. In an effort to get closer to his biological mother, Arlo invited Maddie's estranged mother (Cloris Leachman) to their Christmas celebration, which led to disaster in the end for everyone involved. Will Maddie be able to have a relationship with Arlo or will she push him away once again?
In terms of questions, the first four episodes of "Kirstie" didn't offer too many surprises, because the tension always seemed to resolve itself temporarily by the end of each episode. The basic premise has been in those episodes was that Maddie's plans to get closer to Arlo always backfired and he managed to forgive her once she appeared to show genuine remorse before repeating the cycle. It also didn't help that the show made it hard for viewers to sometimes relate to Alley's Maddie who appeared to have it all, except the ability to relate to others less fortunate than her. Sadly, the situation wasn't also helped by the fact that Alley has played similiar roles in the past with much better results for everyone involved. Of course, that was sometimes the show's biggest strength as well because the premiere's most memorable scene was when Alley's Maddie got into a donut fight with a moody co-worker of Arlo's. The scene was a welcome break from the routine scenes where the cast was working hard to plot their next crazy scheme that always blew up in their faces, such as Maddie using a theatre rival (guest star Kristin Chenoweth) to help cover up the fact that she erased a recorded message that Arlo's late adoptive mother left for him in a greeting card before she died. Viewers knew that the idea wasn't going to work from the start, but it was funny to watch them try nonetheless. Another strength for the show was its use of guest stars to their advantage, because it helped to speed an episode along and gave the cast different people to play off of for genuine laughs. Only time will tell if this move helps to give this show some staying power past this first season.
As for breakout stars, the supporting players seemed to be leading the pack because they earned laughs without going too over-the-top, most of the time. Rhea Perlman and Michael Richards were two of the stronger supporting players on their previous sitcoms by drawing laughs by either making a sarcastic comment or an unusual entrance work to their advantage. It also helped that Perlman and Alley previously worked together on "Cheers," which allowed them to develop their characters' bickering but affectionate dynamic that sometimes brought out the most memorable scenes. In an upcoming episode, Alley and Perlman's characters go to great lengths to crash a neighbor's party that had Perlman's Thelma dangling from a building and leading up to a likely embarassing moment for both. Perlman embodied Thelma with the right mixture of spunk and innocence that allowed viewers to relate to her and laugh at the appropriate jokes at the same time. It's just a shame that viewers don't know more about the character other than the fact that she collects turtles and is Maddie's assistant. Hopefully, future episodes will give Perlman the opportunity to flesh out Thelma's background and bring in a potentially surprising guest star in the process. Richards, on the other hand, had the more challenging task of trying to emulate his previous success on "Seinfeld," but the results were slightly mixed in the end. He seemed to be working a little harder than normal to make his new character Frank just as iconic as Kramer when he should be focusing more on trying to make Frank a strong supporting player. Sure, he drew some laughs with Frank's outrageous antics, but the character should be more than his questionable behavior. Let's hope that the show will give Frank his own story, or just one crazy adventure, to give viewers a different perspective on the character. If not, they should give Richards stronger material to better develop his character.
"Kirstie" premiered on December 4th and airs on Wednesdays at 10:00 pm on TV Land.
Verdict: The cast has managed to deliver some laughs to viewers, but the familiar jokes and character stereotypes threatened to derail the show from the very beginning.
TV Score: 2.5 out of 5 stars
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)