Tom Arnold, the poster child for failing upward, continues his quest for show business immortality in this predictably strained half-hour of punch lines in search of setups. How bad is it? Four words: Ed McMahon, supporting player. It's a frightening concept: Heeeeeeeeeere's Eddie! The sitcom, which Arnold also created, executive produces and co-writes with partner J.J. Wall, finds the "Roseanne," "Jackie Thomas Show" and "Tom" alum trying to go the family route. Here, he plays a schmo named Tom Amross who gets ditched by his wife during the taping of a daytime talk show she hosts and he produces.

The ex, played by Shannon Tweed (Arnold should be so lucky), winds up making $160 million off the subsequent publicity, or some such nonsense. And Tom signs away any financial claims in exchange for joint custody of their two daughters (played by Mika Boorem and Lisa Wilhoit). He then moves with the girls back home to St. Paul, Minn., to live in an apartment like a peasant without a single bowling alley, movie theater or heliport on the premises.

This, of course, presumes that a court of law would award everything to the mother and nothing to the support of her kids. But hey, let’s not quibble. The girls, jaded 13-year-old Kenlon and low-key 9-year-old Alissa, are put in the unenviable position of having to put up with their dad, something TV audiences can relate to.

In the opener, Tom takes a job producing a dying local morning talk show called “Breakfast with Charlie” (McMahon is Charlie) and hires him a bullhorn of a co-host (Shawnee Smith) to shake things up. Whoa, a show within a show. How clever they are.

For his short-awaited return to TV after bombing out in “The Stupids,” “Carpool” and “McHale’s Navy” on the big screen, Arnold and partner Wall craft themselves a pedestrian show that can’t decide if it wants to be hip or poignant. It winds up instead being merely ridiculous.

In his sitcom debut, McMahon more or less plays it like a 23-minute Carnac routine, projecting his lines like Scud missiles packed with Publisher’s Clearing House mailers. He tries hard, but it’s in vain. Without Johnny Carson, Jerry Lewis or any Clydesdales nearby, Ed is hopelessly out of his element.

“The Tom Show” is “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” dressed-down and dumbed-down for the 1990s. Tech credits are fine, but Arnold needs to decide what he wants to become in his post-Roseanne life. If he wants to continue cultivating an image as the perpetual buffoon, he’s in his element. If he craves a real acting career, it’s time for a radical makeover.

The Tom Show

WB, SUN. SEPT. 7, 9 P.M.

Production

Taped in Universal City by Clean Break Prods. in association with Universal Television. Creators/executive producers, Tom Arnold, J.J. Wall; co-executive producer, Kevin Kelton; producer, Doug Jackson; supervising producer, David Raether; director, Howard Murray; writers, Arnold, Wall.

Crew

Camera, Frank Doll; editor, Gary Anderson; production designer, Dahl Delu; casting, Dava White. 30 MIN.

Cast

Cast: Tom Arnold, Ed McMahon, Shawnee Smith, Mika Boorem, Tasha Smith, Michael Rosenbaum, Lisa Wilhoit, Danton Stone, Shannon Tweed.
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