Add Margaret Cho to the list of standup comics whose act hasn’t fully survived the transition to sitcomville, at least based on a sampling of the first two episodes of her new ABC series. Despite Cho’s charm, this “Girl” will need better writing — plus a strong “Thunder Alley” lead-in — to keep all of America (or even a portion of those with Nielsen boxes) tuned in.
Cho is an engaging comedienne with a much-discussed twist — she’s a Korean-American — that should have little to do with whether her series thrives , since the idea of an assimilated girl clashing with her traditional, immigrant mother could be the story of any culture.
“All-American Girl” is at its best when Cho’s character and her mother (Jodi Long) clash, from the mother’s ambush-like barrage of nice Korean boys (her daughter tends to favor Caucasians in biker garb) to Margaret’s retaliatory mimicry of her mother, screeching “No tongue-kissing!” in a thick Korean accent.
There’s a smattering of warmth between these characters, but not enough demonstrated early to lift the series beyond the most standard sitcom fare.
Other supporting characters, from Margaret’s family to her ditzy friends, are all overly broad — the only possible exception being her father (Clyde Kusatsu) , who spends most of his time trying to avoid serving as referee in the mother-daughter struggle.
The first two episodes deal with Margaret’s dating habits, the first involving a white boy of whom the mother disapproves, the second (written by J. J. Paulsen and directed by Terry Hughes) involving Margaret’s gymnastics to get along with a “nice Korean boy”– her mother’s ideal — who expects her to behave deferentially toward him.
Cho is instantly appealing with her product-of-suburbia shtick, but early scripts don’t provide material to define the character beyond her maternal sparring. Cho does exhibit some of her comic flair during a dinner-table scene in the second episode, though even there, mundane writing prevents the sequence from generating all the laughs it should. Muchof the series’ success will likely depend on the performance of its lead-in, “Thunder Alley,” against new CBS sitcom “Daddy’s Girls,” NBC’s “The Cosby Mysteries” and Fox’s “Beverly Hills, 90210.” That would seemingly give ABC a shot at the comedy audience if this “Girl” group can get its act together.