Review: ‘Soul Man’

New comedy starring Dan Aykroyd already looks like a hit given first-week ratings that actually built on its lead-in (a "Home Improvement" original) and garnered a 24 share. Yet "Soul Man" plays its premise with a distinct lack of soul.Safe and indistinct, the "sincom" uses stereotypes and stock characters to mine its undersize laugh quotient. The whole enterprise carries an air of improbability, beginning with the use of Aykroyd as a (gulp) man of the cloth. Aykroyd appears to be portraying a "Saturday Night Live" parody rather than a real human as Rev. Mike Weber, a single-father father who's a widower with a purportedly checkered past and lives in Detroit. In bumpers, we see him riding a motorcycle and flashing a leather jacket. The revving reverend.

Since the death of his wife three years before, Rev. Mike has been forced to care for four kids on his own, and somehow does it without a nanny or any housekeeping help. God evidently does child care these days.

There is 14-year-old Kenny (Kevin Sheridan), a teen so rebellious he steals communion wine (wooooo!); 11-year-old Andy (Brendon Ryan Barrett), a smart-mouth who breaks his dad’s prized possessions; 8-year-old Meredith (Courtney Chase), the token daughter; and the age-undetermined Fred (Spencer Breslin), whose primary contribution to the family seems to be making odd guttural noises and faking injury. In series premiere (written by exec producers Carmen Finestra, David McFadzean and Matt Williams), we met Melinda McGraw (Bridgette Collins), a comely reporter toward whom Rev. Mike has some decidedly un-theological urges. She takes advantage of him during an interview and publishes a piece detailing just what a horndog the guy is. He reacts by ultimately liking her even more.

Second, somewhat funnier episode forges a little Wind Dancer Prods. synergy in a stunt appearance by Tim Allen (in his Tim Taylor mode) as a guy hired to rewire the rectory — with predictably disastrous results.

We also see Rev. Mike’s marriage-counseling style, which includes handcuffing the husband to the door to keep him from leaving. And the reporter makes an encore visit to tease the reverend and dig up a bit more dirt.

Dakin Matthews appears from time to time as a fellow preacher who adds the occasional wisecrack, but he looks bored. He’s not the only one.

It’s hard to fathom just why the vastly talented Aykroyd would agree to center such a trite, mundane show, and one given only a three-episode guarantee. Working with kids appears not to be Aykroyd’s strong suit.

Potential love interest Collins is consistently billed here as a “guest star” despite the fact she appears in all three episodes. By that measure, Aykroyd is a guest star, too. He should be so lucky.

Tech credits are all fine. And given the early numbers, “Soul Man” would seem to have a bright, if not necessarily very amusing, future.

Soul Man

ABC, Tues. April 15, 22, 8:30 p.m.

Production

Taped at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank by Wind Dancer Production Group in association with Touchstone Television. Executive producers, Matt Williams, David McFadzean, Carmen Finestra, Eliot Shoenman, Dan Aykroyd; supervising producer, Marley Sims; producers, Gayle S. Maffeo, Lisa Albert; co-producer, Caterina Nelli; premiere writers, Finestra, McFadzean, Williams; premiere director, Andrew Tsao; camera, Donald A Morgan

Crew

; editor, Marco Zappia; production designer, David Sackeroff; sound, Klaus Landsberg, Gary Long; music, Dan Foliart; casting, Debbie Barylski. 30 MIN.

Cast

Cast: Dan Aykroyd, Bridgette Collins, Dakin Matthews, Kevin Sheridan, Brendon Ryan Barrett, Courtney Chase, Spencer Breslin.
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