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Fall '06: 'Til Death

'Til DeathThis past Sunday marked my 12th wedding anniversary. I guess that should put me on the side of Brad Garrett in Fox's new sitcom ’Til Death (premiering Thursday at 8), but to be honest, I think I'm rooting for Death.

’Til Death is all about odd combinations. Brad Garrett and Joely Fisher star as the Starks, a couple married for more than 20 years. Eddie Kaye Thomas and Kat Foster are the Woodcocks, the Starks' new next-door neighbors and a pair of newlyweds to boot. (Speaking of odd combinations, yes, this is a show that stars a cast member from Everybody Loves Raymond and one from "American Pie." Everybody loves pie!)

I'm tempted to say that, based on its simple Odd Couples premise, the show writes itself. But if that were true, I'd be accusing an innocent sitcom of being a lazy writer, and that just ain't nice.

As you might expect, the Starks' relationship is portrayed as only slightly less combative than The Lockhorns. The Woodcocks, meanwhile -- a couple whose family name exists entirely for a series of crass jokes throughout the pilot episode -- are by-the-book lovebirds who giggle and coo and otherwise need to get a room.

Of course, the two contrasting couples aren't supposed to be funny on their own: the real sparks are supposed to fly when they're rubbed up against each other. Sure enough, Garrett's character quickly exposes Thomas to the seamy underbelly of married life, accurately predicting that his blushing bride will (horror of horrors!) veto his dreamed-of purchase of a pool table.

As someone who's been married for a dozen years, I can definitely understand where ’Til Death's producers -- a married couple! -- are coming from. Nobody would deny that the heady days of newlywedhood contain an energy and enthusiasm that can't sustain over the long haul. Of course, that doesn't mean that by the time we've been married more than a decade, we no longer speak to each other and instead communicate entirely by a system of grunts and laser-etched stank-eye stares. Yes, we're assured at the end of ’Til Death's pilot, the Starks really do love each other. But even that sentiment, when it finally comes, is gooey and trite.

Garrett was my favorite part of Everybody Loves Raymond, and in ’Til Death he brings a darker, begging-for-death vibe to his role has Eddie Stark. Thomas was my favorite part of "American Pie" -- well, except for Allyson Hannigan and that hot chick on the video camera -- but here he seems trapped in a bland role (as a high school Vice Principal -- could it get any blander?). I've never really liked Joely Fisher, and her part in ’Til Death didn't convince me otherwise. And I've never seen Kat Foster before, but she seems cute and perky and pleasant, which is basically what her role calls for.

Is ’Til Death terrible? No, it's not. It's at turns boring, obvious, and mildly amusing. These traits would usually indicate a sitcom that, tucked away on CBS on a Monday night, would run for about six years. Unfortunately, ’Til Death is not a CBS show. Instead, it's a show with a CBS vibe that's airing on Fox. And as a result, the show seems to have been modified to insert some of that trademark "Fox attitude" -- namely, crass jokes about the name Woodcock.

I don't see any reason to watch ’Til Death, and I doubt Thursday night audiences will either. If it were on CBS, it might have lasted as long as Yes, Dear. But since ’Til Death airs on Fox, I suspect that Garrett and company won't have to wait long for their show's namesake to arrive, scythe in hand.


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