The pilot of “On Our Own,” a new family sitcom from Miller/Boyett and Suzanne de Passe, features seven cute-as-a-button orphaned siblings, a guy in drag, buffoonish authority figures, the obligatory “awwww” moments (such as the oldest son having a heart-to-heart talk with a photo of the dead parents), a bulldog who wears a variety of funny hats, frequent reaction shots of a laughing baby, and a rap number. It’s shamelessly calculated and blatantly derivative. In other words, how can it miss?
The premise has the Dept. of Children’s Services threatening to split up the Jerrico clan — seven orphaned kids, aged 20 years to 18 months — unless a suitable adult authority figure can be found.
So, faster than you can say “Charley’s Aunt,” oldest son Josh (Ralph Louis Harris) puts on a dress and wig to pose as their Aunt Jelcinda.
Evidently some production exec saw “Mrs. Doubtfire,” the recent movie about a man who gets into drag to keep his family together, and thought: What if instead of 40 years old and white, he were 20 and black?
This kind of thinking is what passes in some quarters as originality.
However, there are a couple ofgenuinely original touches in “Our Own”: the acting of Harris, and the casting of six real-life siblings, the Smollett family , as Josh’s brothers and sisters.
Thus, the viewers get JoJo Smollett as Jimi Jerrico, Jazz as Jai, Jussie as Jesse, Jurnee as Jordee, Jake as Joc, and Jocqui as Jarreau.
They represent six little faces with one set of emotions: When told they might be sent to foster homes, each gets a sad closeup, and when Josh makes a joke, each gets a laughing closeup.
It’s too soon to tell if this little acting dynasty will result in a “The Smolletts: An American Dream” miniseries or spex like “The Smollett Family Honors,” but they’re appealing kids. Harris is stuck with the inevitable walking-in-high-heels-is-hard sight gags, but he plays with an admirable simplicity and subtlety.
Kimberley Kates is likable as the social worker who’s an ally in the battle of Jerricos (“Somehow, this wonderful family has gotten to me!”), but Roger Aaron Brown is allowed to push too hard as her uptight, by-the-books boss who becomes infatuated with “Aunt Jelcinda.” (How do they think up these plot twists?)
Director Joel Zwick does exactly what’s required, and the producers’ experience shows: You’ve seen it all before, but it’s polished.
Tech credits are fine, and Greg Cannom and Bill Myer’s makeup effects are particularly good.