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Fall '99: "Grown Ups" and "The Parkers"

"Grown Ups": In my sick and twisted mind, I've always amused myself with the idea that there was a Society for the Advancement of Type-casted Actors. Bob Denver would be the president, Gavin McLeod the vice president, Adam West the treasurer, Burt Ward the secretary, and Gary Coleman would pull down sergeant-at-arms duties.

I imagine them convening at a Denny's in West Hollywood, collecting dues, debating career revivial strategies, and discussing potential new members. I mention this only because if there was ever a guy who was a first-ballot lock for membership, it would be Jaleel White, Urkel from Family Matters.

I never honestly thought I'd hear from that guy again after Family Matters sank beneath the sea. I surely didn't think he'd be an actor who'd could actually pull off the amazing feat of having a hit show on the UPN. And yet there White is, the star of UPN's Grown Ups -- suave, cut like a Chippendale, adeptly playing a young twentysomething coping with the trials and travails of adulthood on a show that is getting decent ratings. And furthermore, Grown Ups isn't half-bad.

I didn't think I'd be writing that, either.

I'm not going to stand here and proclaim this is the second coming of Seinfeld. It's not. But White proves that as adept as he was in playing the wacky Urkel, he is also adept at humor that is a bit more subtle. You can probably miss an episode of this show and you won't be missing anything particulary groundbreaking. But if you were like me, looking forward to a car wreck of a sitcom, this isn't it.

Which is really too bad, because I really think Bob Denver is running his organization into the ground.

"The Parkers": If there is a cautionary tale to the art of producing spinoffs, it has to be CBS's Flo. Don't remember it? Let me refresh your memory: In 1980, after saying "kiss my grits" for four years on the hit show Alice, sassy waitress Florence Jean Castleberry (played by Polly Holliday) decided to leave Mel's Diner to look for greener pastures in her own sitcom.

When it debuted, Flo looked like a pretty sure thing. At the time, most Amercians may not have known what a grit was, but you couldn't walk ten feet without someone telling you to kiss theirs. And despite all of this, Flo only lasted barely more than a season. It was a fatal miscalcuation, screwing up the chemistry of Alice and pretty much regulating Polly Holliday to character actor limbo.

What the hell happened? How could a character as beloved as Flo fail miserably in a show of her own? After years of intense study and experimentation, I would like to unveil a new theory about sitcoms that I call simply "The Castleberry Effect." It works something like this:

1. Take an extremely sassy and popular character from an established hit, and put her in her own show.

2. Surround her with characters even more annoying and sassy than she is.

3. After initial ratings success, watch as ratings drop in ongoing weeks as viewers learn to hate said character and her sassy and annoying cohorts.

4. Watch as show is cancelled and actor who played sassy and annoying character drops from the face of the earth.

The lesson of The Castleberry Effect being that sass is a dish best served in small doses.

Which brings me to The Parkers, the Moesha spinoff starring Countess Vaughn playing the sassy Kim Parker and Mo'Nique playing her sassy mom. This show has nothing on Flo.

The Parkers has to be the easiest show of the season to hate. Part of it is that The Parkers has inherited Moesha's annoying tendency to sermonize. The episode I watched jammed four life lessons into 22 minutes. And let's face it -- there's only so much you can take of Countess Vaughn before she gets on your nerves. And the fact that Mo'Nique plays basically an older version of her pretty much guarantees you are going to be annoyed for the full half-hour.

Of course, it doesn't help that The Parkers feels like the show was written by a black-sitcom-writing computer: mom goes out of town, daughter has jammy jam, mom calls home to see if daughter is having jammy jam, daughter denies having jammy jam, daughter goes to jail because someone serves beer at jammy jam, blah blah blah...

Are they even trying anymore?

When it comes to The Parkers, It sure doesn't feel like it.


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