A dog of a debut makes it easy to see why most people roll their eyes when they find out “Family Affair” is coming back. The WB may be reaching for nostalgia with this dated take on domestic environs — the original aired 1966-71 — but it’s hard to imagine anyone with even the slightest amount of sophistication looking forward to this on a weekly basis. Title has generated its share of urban legends because Brian Keith and Anissa Jones committed suicide, and this newest chapter in the life of Mr. Bill and his brood won’t do much for their memories.
Having assumed that the same framework could play today, Frog execs — is this really the best they could do? — have altered absolutely zip. Gary Cole is Bill Davis, a rich and selfish Gotham engineer who enjoys his women, his wealth and his butler, Mr. French (Tim Curry).
Davis’ world is turned upside down as only sitcom worlds can be with the arrival of his sister, who has traveled from Indiana to remind Bill about his promise to take care of niece Buffy (Sasha Pieterse) and nephew Jody (Luke Benward) after their parents died. (She’s too busy roving the country in a Winnebago.)
Wham-o, instant clan. After rushing the heck out of togetherness in the debut — show kickoff is an hour and then switches to 30 minutes — Bill actually goes to work the next day(?) before worrying about the tots after they start a small fire and then disappear. Meanwhile, French turns on the sarcasm since he’s devastated that his universe is shifting so drastically. To top it off, teen cousin Cissy (Caitlin Wachs) shows up with dreams of making it in the big city and living with her uncle.
That’s about it. Cole, whose repertoire now contains two TV dads — he played Mike Brady on the bigscreen — is really slumming here, dumbing down a resume that has had its share of solid work (“Fatal Vision,” “One Hour Photo”). It ain’t all his fault. Curry exudes little charm (not that Sebastian Cabot had much 30 years ago), and the moppets aren’t particularly special — already changes are afoot since little Jody has already been replaced. Wachs is the brightest spot, at least bringing some energy and potential for more mature storylines.
The crop of good all-age-demo skeins — “My Wife and Kids,” “Malcolm in the Middle,” “The Bernie Mac Show” — have an edge, however muted sometimes, and timeliness. This “Affair,” however, wreaks of manufactured happiness and warm-and-fuzzy plotlines in an era that presumably has viewers who see right through that and are much less patient with silly television. Besides, what single man has a servant?
Tech credits, though limited, are actually quite nice, with production designer Scott Heineman having built and decorated a rather tony Manhattan apartment with a stylish eye.