While he may be best known to college students for his role as vindictive genius Sideshow Bob on Fox’s “The Simpsons,” Kelsey Grammer was a bonafide sitcom superstar in the ’80s and ’90s. His new show, “Hank,” seems unlikely to propel him to his past heights.
Wednesdays at 8 p.m.
“Hank” follows a family’s struggle to adjust to everyday suburban life after a hostile takeover results in father Hank (Grammer, “Frasier”) getting fired, forcing the family to return to mother Tilly’s (Melinda McGraw, “Mad Men”) Virginia hometown, where they learn to live frugally.
Grammer played the character of Frasier Crane for nine years on “Cheers,” then left “Cheers” in 1993 to continue in “Frasier” for another 11. After 20 years dedicated to the same character, it seems like Grammer would try for a radical departure in his next role. Hank, however, is essentially Frasier with a family.
The perfect mix of pretentious arrogance and pathos that made Frasier Crane such an indelible character is carried over to “Hank,” but Hank’s status as a father of two makes these traits seem unbecomingly pathetic. Hank is like a live-action version of Stan Smith from “American Dad!” Grammer’s likeability and familiarity, however, still make him a pleasure to watch, even in a show where he seems miscast. His endearingly bombastic, almost over-the-top style of acting stands in stark contrast to the other cast members, who strive for mediocre sitcommy humor and hit their mark.
Sitcoms seem to exist in a vacuum: The premises and structures have basically remained unchanged for the past 60 years, and their lack of topical humor renders them essentially timeless. Although “Hank” makes absolutely no effort to break free from sitcom conventions, it frequently references current events. Hank’s job loss was precipitated by the current economic crisis; Hank attempts to inspire his family to rally over its newfound poverty by borrowing President Obama’s campaign slogan (“Yes, we can!”); and Hank horrifies his daughter by informing her that her mother did not vote for Obama.
These modern-day references might be a shrewd way to identify with viewers who are similarly crippled by the country’s financial downturn and are savvy to political news, but “Hank” will be horribly out of date if it’s ever picked up for syndication (and this seems wildly unlikely).
Even while the show attempts to make itself relevant with allusions to current events, all other sitcom conventions remain within the box. Another superficial deterrent in “Hank” is its cinematography. The overly bright lighting gives the show a washed-out, pastel appearance that’s reminiscent of the way shows were shot in the early ’90s.
That’s not the only thing that makes the show feel like a relic of times past: The overly boisterous laugh track that cackles after every lame joke is consistently annoying. And the stereotypical family dynamic, in which Hank is unable to relate to his children and instead depends on his wife to do it, is dull, dull, dull — a complete retreading of the hundreds of family-centered comedies that litter the weekday lineups of ABC and NBC. “Cheers” and “Frasier” catapulted Grammer to fame because they were fresh, but this show brings nothing new to the table.