Norman Lear’s name suggests a hot property, but the opening seg of “704 Hauser,” the Archie Bunkers’ old address, wavers between tepid and lukewarm in the pilot created by Lear and Mark E. Pollack and written by Lear and Kevin Heelan.
The hearty bursts of laughter on the soundtrack are inexplicable in light of the prop characters, dated dialogue and stale ideas, such as blacks’ attitudes and Jewish traditions. Unless the second episode dishes up something smarter and has something to say, the Hauser house will soon be vacant.
The black Cumberbatch family now lives at the Bunkers’ old address (and in a slot previously held by “Dave’s World,” which shifts to8 p.m.). Dad Ernie (John Amos), a Vietnam veteran and ex-civil rights fighter, stumbles along his liberal route; loyal wife Rose (Lynnie Godfrey), who tangles with Ernie over religion and over their conservative, 23-year-old son, Goodie (T.E. Russell), arbitrates arguments between the two men.
Goodie’s another matter. While Ernie’s a top auto mechanic, Goodie, local Young Republicans chief, is appearing today on “Face the Nation.” An ultra-conservative, he’s in love with white, Jewish Cherlyn Markowitz (Moira Tierney), whose prime purpose in visiting 704 Hauser is that she’s supposed to be crazy for Goodie. Seems more like she’s the writers’ comedy fodder.
Adding a desperate connection to the Bunkers, Joey Stivic (Casey Siemaszko), son of Gloria and Meathead, drops by, introduces himself and is banished summarily to the kitchen because yet another verbal brushfire’s broken out in the living room.
Lear directed, but the results are anemic. Amos draws on considerable experience but can’t pull much out of this hat. Russell’s Goodie so far is tough to figure. Tierney forces the character of Cherlyn; Godfrey admirably limns strong Rose. Siemaszko’s Joey doesn’t have a chance.
All to the good, art director Bob Breen and production designer Don Roberts have changed little of the Bunker house interior. Archie’s spirit is all but tangible in the new series, committed to six episodes. Now, he’d have something to say!