The new fall season is lousy with single dads — and the majority are portrayed as clueless and awkward — at least Daniel Stern’s “Danny” is more heartfelt and poignant than the average sitcom.
Stern, looking like Chris Elliott’s older and only slightly more serious brother, is the eponymous Danny, a recently separated father of two with a perpetual case of ennui.
The show has a respectable lead- in from fellow freshman “The Ellen Show” and should work as a nice segue into the hourlong dramedy “That’s Life.”
But getting viewers to connect with this bittersweet comedy will be the show’s biggest challenge. “Danny” is a fairly subtle touch in a genre known for a heavy hand. And if the fate of “Sports Night” is any indication, viewers like their comedy straight up.
Pilot introduces us to Danny in semi-existential crisis mode because of his 40th birthday. An enemy of change, Danny frets over the possible lack of a traditional birthday dinner. On his own and feeling rather old, Danny finds himself routinely avoiding responsibility.
Although it was Danny who turned a bunch of abandoned warehouses into the local community center, he would rather play basketball with the neighborhood kids than compile budget projections.
A haven for kids and seniors, the rec center also serves as Danny’s escape from real life, but every once in a while, real life catches up to him.
Using the rec center as a focal point is a clever concept that brings together a wide range of characters in an unforced fashion. And it is a big help that Stern’s neurotic good guy is backed by a wacky arsenal of characters including Roz Ryan as the ornery Chickie and Robert Prosky as his father Lenny. Too often, however, all the other folks outrank Danny in terms of maturity. When Danny gets into it on the basketball court with his son Henry (Jon Foster), it’s hard to remember which one is the adult.
Later, all is made up for with a truly amusing scene in which Danny, who is forced to substitute teach ballet class, turns a bunch of toddlers in tutus into football scrimmagers.
All in all, “Danny” works as a nice family comedy and, with the exception of an excessively long and fairly unnecessary bathroom scene, the show is suitable for all tastes.
New fall season pilots are notoriously overwrought with popular songs to catch viewers’ ears, but “Danny” is particularly adept tying the music with the moment. Most notably, an appropriately timed rendition of John Hiatt’s “Have a Little Faith in Me.” Other tech credits are also nicely done.