ABC’s “8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter” in some ways carries on from where John Ritter left off 18 years ago. Imagine if “Three’s Company” swinger Jack Tripper chilled out and started a family, and you get the idea of this Tuesday nighter, which safely and softly kicks off the net’s new comedy block. Unoriginal but brisk and occasionally poignant, its biggest selling point is Ritter himself, who can still turn minor problems into charm points via stammers and double takes.
“Rules,” based on the book by W. Bruce Cameron, is the ultimate flipside to “Father Knows Best”: Dad’s heart is in the right place, but he’s got a lot to learn. From negotiating punishment with his daughters to ganging up on them with his son, its leading man uses some heavy-duty sarcasm while navigating the choppy waters of parenthood.
Pilot, of course, tries to establish character traits as quickly as possible, but it’s not hard. Bridget (Kaley Cuoco) is the blonde airhead, a knockout who wears thongs to school and thinks she can get away with anything. Kerry (Amy Davidson) is the homely, profound type who reads “The Bell Jar” for fun and secretly resents her older sister’s ability to have a blast. Brat of the pack is Rory (Martin Spanjers), a witty sneak who gets pop’s attention by virtue of being the only one who likes sports and who doesn’t “get” the female race.
When wife Cate (Sagal) goes back to work in the debut, Jack, who’s now working at home as a sports columnist, is put in charge of the house, a role he’s not quite comfortable playing. His first task is to talk his girls off the ledge when it comes to the prom. Bridget wants to dump a guy and get asked by a hottie who treats her like trash (and whose dad is Paul’s colleague), while Kerry is dejected because nobody thinks she’s pretty enough to date.
Nothing even remotely deep here, but “Rules” isn’t as silly as some of its plotlines suggest. Going for the mass appeal, bow’s reach goes a little too far, trying to appease every single potential audience member off the bat with standard-fare jokes about clothing, dating and busy spouses. It would really be something if execs went for the slowburn once in a while, letting some of these shows breathe before jamming punchlines down viewers’ throats.
Perfs are sound, with Ritter going full tilt, his kids nailing their respective functions, and Sagal doing her best to make everyone forget her time spent as the dippy Peg Bundy in “Married . . . With Children.” As for its look, “Rules” mirrors the cluttered confines of umpteen other programs.