We watch... so you don't have to.

Fall 2000: "Tucker"

During one of my more memorable chemistry classes, our lab group had a real witches' brew stewing in an effort to extract solid copper from solution. The time came to add sulfuric acid to the beaker and one of my three partners poured in just the right amount. Everything was hunky-dory.

Except for the fact that this guy had suffered one of those occasional brain freezes that are best avoided when dealing with high corrosives. The sulfuric acid was located on the walls of the classroom and instead of bringing over the entire bottle, one person in the group was supposed to pour a limited amount into another container and bring that to your bench.

However, our partner, a man who harbored aspirations of medical school, looked past the required diluted acid and brought us a graduated cylinder poured from the bottle marked "CONCENTRATED" in big red letters.

We carried on, blisfully unaware of our impending doom, until the instructions called for dropping magnesium strips to the broth. According to the directions, we were to "carefully" add one pinch of magnesium at a time in order to watch the reaction as it took place. Unfortunately for the scientific method, our group was running late and we unceremoniously dumped the entire dish of magensium into the beaker.

The very same beaker which contained a sulfuric acid concoction six times more powerful than it should have been.

It was like running a can of soda through a paint shaker and then opening it. We began having visions of that scene in "Alien" where the creature's acid blood spills onto the ship's deck and nearly eats all the way through the hull.

That's when the gas hit us.

A malevolent gray mushroom cloud burst over the lab bench and drifted straight down our windpipes. This wasn't like getting a sniff of porta-potties on a parking lot in Vegas in August, this was flat-out noxious.

Our eyes watered, our nostrils burned and we spent the better part of ten minutes hacking up chunks of lung. One breath of that smorgasbord of toxins and our brain stems took control -- we clawed our way toward the window in a primal battle for fresh air and survival.

Watching Tucker is a lot like that.

Airing Monday nights on NBC, Tucker doesn't just reek of incompetence like most other new shows. No, this program is a toxic cocktail of slime that's like a boot to the Adam's apple.

The story revolves around a smart kid named Malcolm who talks to the camera and lives with his domineering mother, pushover father and thuggish brother. Hilarity ensues.

Wait, I'm sorry. That's not quite right. This story revolves around a smart kid named Tucker who talks to the camera and lives with his domineering aunt, pushover uncle and thuggish cousin. Hilarity is nowhere to be found.

You see, they are totally different shows.

Fourteen-year-old Tucker is played by Eli Marienthal, who looks like he just disconnected from the Project: TELEGENIC nutrient interface over at Disney Genetic Labs. Tucker is a Frankenstein's monster of TV Kid Clichés: clever without being nerdy, wide-eyed with just a splash of skater rebellion, mischievous but with a heart of gold.

Tucker and his mom are forced to move in with Aunt Claire, played by Katey Sagal. Claire is Jane Kazmareck's character in Malcolm... just substitute the charm with a touch of bitch. The result is not a character that people love to hate, it's a character that people loathe with the same kind of medulla-based paranoid obsession usually reserved for spiders, snakes and clowns.

Tucker shares his room with a dolt of a cousin who makes a habit of spying on their beautiful neighbor and classmate, McKenna. Tucker immediately sets out to win McKenna's heart, a dream unlikely to come to fruition since she is dating Seth Green. Not a character played by Seth Green, but Seth Green playing himself.

Granted, getting written off Buffy and starring in "Idle Hands" aren't exactly ego boosts, but there must be some deeper psychosis gnawing away at the formerly respectable Mr. Green. In Buffy he was a fictional character bonking a college girl, now he's himself dating a fourteen-year-old. What must NBC be lording over Green to get him to lend his name to this schlock?

Then again, "schlock" may be too strong a compliment. Baywatch is schlock. Titans is schlock. Yes, Dear is schlock.

Tucker is indeed a miserable concept that is poorly written, badly acted, utterly humorless and startlingly unoriginal. Yet Yes, Dear doesn't make the viewer feel dirty for having watched it. After two episodes of Tucker, I needed to bellyflop into a swimming pool of Lysol.

Consider the first five minutes of the pilot, a Tucker monologue on how he has an erection and how he plans on hiding it from his mom and aunt. Later that night, Tucker's cousin hides in his bed, wearing a wrestling mask and eating peanut butter by the spoonful, watching Tucker undress. Tucker sees his cousin, goes into the bathroom, pulls down his pants and only then discovers his naked aunt in the shower. He covers his crotch with a toliet paper cozy, which he later gives to McKenna to wear as a hat. Claire spends the rest of the episode describing to neighbors how excited her nephew got watching her naked.

Even the Farrelly brothers have their limits. Well, maybe not. But at least they would make it funny.

NBC says Tucker is a coming-of-age story and hopes it will remind viewers of the bittersweet days between childhood and becoming an adult. (This, from the network that cancelled Freaks and Geeks.) Thankfully, judging from the early ratings, Tucker's coming of age will be cancelled just a few weeks into high school and the only memories will be of a toxic cloud and a chemistry experiment gone horribly awry.


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