Despite the Sept. 12 preview in the “NYPD Blue” slot, ABC’s “The Monroes” gets thrown in front of a firing squad named “Seinfeld” starting Sept. 14, so the show’s chances appear contingent on patience and modest expectations. Even so, look for this serialized drama about a high-powered political family to have a tough time winning a second term.
That isn’t to say the concept is poorly executed, but launching such a show with virtually no lead-in presents an enormous challenge. In addition, the series itself has moments but isn’t particularly compelling beyond William Devane and Susan Sullivan as the family patriarch and matriarch.
The initial hour focuses largely on Devane’s John Monroe, whose planned run for governor is scuttled by word that he had an affair 20 years earlier with a woman who turns out to have been a foreign spy. The revelation not only knocks him out of the race but also creates tension between the multimillionaire and his wife — who, in steely Kennedy-esque fashion, vows to endure this indignity for the family’s sake.
Devane brings necessary weight and grit to the role, and his experience both in a primetime soap (“Knots Landing”) and playing John F. Kennedy in “The Missiles of October” provides an indication of where “The Monroes” would like to go.
Unfortunately, as is so often the case, the kids don’t measure up to their folks, instead proving to be a collection of cliches. The Monroe clan includes a philandering congressman (David Andrews) with a “dad likes you best” chipon his shoulder regarding his astronaut brother (Steven Eckholdt); a lawyer (“L.A. Law’s” Cecil Hoffmann) having an affair with some mysterious famous figure; and two way-ward younger children, a college-age son (Tristan Tait) struggling to meet the family’s expectations and a newlywed daughter (Tracy Griffith) already on the verge of ending her marriage.
Writer-creator-exec producer Rick Kellard and director Rick Wallace offer a few nice moments that provide an inkling of what it might be like to live in the skin of the rich and famous, among them a scene in which helicopters buzz the family compound. There’s also a nice visual sequence when the entire brood — looking, as their lawyer puts it, like the Earps heading to the O.K. Corral — descends on a Senate committee to back up their father.
Still, all told there’s not much steak here, and even less sizzle. Those factors should leave “The Monroes” duking it out in its time-slot with another new drama, CBS’ “New York News,” to turn out the Nielsen vote among older viewers.