The spirit of Jackie Gleason, if not his talent, lives on. Fat guys with big mouths are back in primetime. There’s a portly oaf named Carmine who dominates Fox’s “Living in Captivity,” and in “The King of Queens” we get “Everybody Loves Raymond” alumnus and stand-up Kevin James playing Doug Heffer-nan, a dese-and-dose couch potato who has probably never seen the inside of a Snackwell’s box, much less a can of Diet Coke. If only Doug and his show were funnier.
While plenty of males will no doubt feel a kindred connection with a character for whom watching a football game on his own big screen TV is akin to an afternoon in the sack with Jennifer Lopez, and any show with Jerry Stiller lending support can’t be all bad, “King of Queens” exists as a collection of trappings in search of a pay-off. It has heart but no teeth, charm without chutzpah.
It’s clear that what exec producer Michael Weithorn is going for here is something of a contemporary “Honeymooners.” Ralph Kramden drove a bus. Our hero Doug drives a package delivery truck. Both are married to brassy women who take no guff. In “King of Queens,” it’s Leah Remini as his wife Carrie, who is thin and gorgeous and would probably be way too good for him in real life.
Intermittently amusing pilot, penned by Weithorn and David Litt, finds Doug hanging with the guys (Larry Romano, Victor Williams, Patton Oswalt) in his newly revamped basement done up as a sports bar. They bond over brew and rhetorical banter like, “Would you do Hillary?” Answer: “Of course ya gotta! She’s the First Lady!” As if the woman doesn’t have enough problems these days.
But their testosterone-spewing nirvana quickly disappears when Leah’s recently widowed dad (Stiller, sharp as ever) opts to move into the basement rather than a retirement home after burning down his own house. Then Carrie’s sexy, self-centered sister Sara (Lisa Rieffel), who wants to be an actress, also moves in with them to save a few bucks. Quicker than you can say “we wuz robbed,” the sports freeloaders are out and Doug is suddenly trapped in a blue-collar “Full House.”
Second seg plays up Doug’s teddy-bear qualities and mental limitations when he obsesses on his svelte wife’s potential to pack on poundage. It better fleshes out the characters — no pun intended — but can’t match the pilot’s sweet silliness. It bodes poorly for a show that tries very hard to make an audience like it, but inevitably sinks under the weight of stock characters and strained interaction.
Too bad, because James has a certain goofy charisma that’s appealing, and Rimini herself brings a lot of spunk.
Tech credits are solid.