As the season finales wrapped up last spring, the future looked bleak for comedies. Old shows were losing their touch (see “Will and Grace”), and most new ventures tanked miserably (“Listen Up!” or “Joey”). But the new season, which began Sunday, seemed promising in light of seemingly innovative programing. However, if the first of these shows, Fox’s “The War at Home,” is any indication, this year may be just as abysmal as the last.

“Home” stars Michael Rapaport and Anita Barone (who have guest-starred in far better sitcoms, including “Murphy Brown,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Seinfeld” and “Friends,” respectively), who raise three adolescents, each of whom is eccentric in his own special way. Rapaport’s aggressive, impatient, regular-Joe nature is supposed to look cute. Barone tries to be something like the mocking-yet-supportive wife on “Everybody Loves Raymond.” The children attempt to say the darndest things in a manner similar to the TV children of Patrick Duffy, Steve Harvey or John Ritter. Even so, they all fail.

Rapaport seems out of place without any tough guys to punch. Perhaps trying to compensate for this softness, the producers tried to make this show “edgy.” In the midst of the usual dating argument between father and daughter, we come unexpectedly upon tasteless and poorly scripted racial humor. While immersed in a not-even-remotely funny conversation about the son’s homosexuality, the parents come to borderline homophobic conclusions. Troubling to say the least.

The worst part of “The War at Home,” striking viewers even before the opening credits, is that though it is a situational comedy, it does not depend on situational humor. Where successful sitcoms depend on good acting and dialogue to quickly explain the most complicated of situations, “Home” relies on inane cut-scenes. The characters actually talk to the audience to explain their situations (reminiscent of Zach Morris’s time-outs). Having to depend on such scenes shows the lack of depth in both characters and dialogue.

As if all this were not bad enough, “Home” features a laugh-track that is so overdone that it may itself be the best joke in the show. With a cast that lacks chemistry, a script that lacks intelligence and a tired premise that was perhaps beaten to death by last year’s “Listen Up!,” “The War at Home” appears to be the early favorite to be the first cancellation of the season.

 

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

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