Insanity and comedy have always gone hand in hand, which isn't to say that spinning mirth out of nervous breakdowns and attempted manslaughter is for everyone. Suffering from its own kind of bipolar condition, "Crumbs" tries to mine that terrain and slip-slides into absurdity -- a loud, shrill half-hour that makes hairpin turns from camp into pathos.

Insanity and comedy have always gone hand in hand, which isn’t to say that spinning mirth out of nervous breakdowns and attempted manslaughter is for everyone. Suffering from its own kind of bipolar condition, “Crumbs” tries to mine that terrain and slip-slides into absurdity — a loud, shrill half-hour that makes hairpin turns from camp into pathos. The show’s scheduling is equally strange (an ABC comedy on Thursday?), and whatever life the series can generate should owe more to “Dancing With the Stars” than any of its own gyrations.

Representing its own twist on the prodigal son’s return, moved-to-Hollywood writer Mitch (Fred Savage) learns that his mom (Jane Curtin at her crazy worst) is being released from a mental hospital, so he decides to return home to their small New England town to help out. Seems she found out her husband (William Devane) is cheating on her, so she tried to run him over in her car.

Still, Mitch is hardly hailed as a conquering hero. Sure, he wrote a movie about his brother’s death, but his other brother, the womanizing Jody (Eddie McClintock), is running the family restaurant and resents the hell out of him for running away.

Mitch himself isn’t exactly a basketful of emotional security. Not only has his writing career foundered, but he’s never worked up the gumption to inform his family that he’s gay, making him fidgety at best. As such, even the supposed voice of sanity providing a window into this wacky family doesn’t offer much of an anchor, much less good company.

Mostly played way over the top, “Crumbs” periodically swings back to some semblance of humanity and sobriety, but it’s a jarring transition. Curtin, for example, goes from big, wild-eyed mood swings to exhibiting pain over the fact that people are laughing and gossiping about her.

From there, though, it’s whoosh, and right back to the hilarity of a middle-aged woman discovering that her husband left her and has knocked up his much-younger girlfriend. And would it really be an awful comedy about mental illness without somebody having an affair with a helpful orderly?

Credit the veteran cast with making the series barely tolerable, but for the most part “Crumbs” is pretty crummy, the sitcom deconstructed to its most primordial form. Granted, ABC has gotten solid mileage out of some mediocre comedies, but if this one works — especially with its peculiar scheduling — then clearly, not all the lunatics are in the asylum.

Crumbs

ABC, Thurs. Jan. 12, 9:30 p.m.

Production

Filmed in Los Angeles by Tollin/Robbins Prods. in association with Touchstone Television. Executive producers, Marco Pennette, Mike Tollin, Brian Robbins, Joe Davola; co-executive producers, Regina Stewart, Dave Walpert; producers, Jason Fisher, Shari Tavey; director, Ted Wass; writer, Pennette;

Crew

Camera, Jim Roberson; editor, Peter Beyt; production designer, Michael Hynes; casting, Gilda Statton. Running time: 30 MIN.

Cast

Mitch Crumb - Fred Savage Suzanne Crumb - Jane Curtin Billy Crumb - William Devane Jody Crumb - Eddie McClintock Andrea Malone - Maggie Lawson Elvis - Reginald Ballard
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