“Back to You”: Old-style, new laughs

After staring at the disc for weeks on the table next to my TV, I finally caught the much-hyped Fox comedy “Back to You” over the weekend. Backweb1

My first impressions: They’re all trying real hard, maybe too hard, to be funny. But for the most part it works because we want to like these actors so much we’re willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

That goodwill comes in the form of Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton, who are coming off their megahit comedies “Frasier” and “Everybody Loves Raymond.” They were each so good in those — and made it look so easy — that it might be hard to see them in new roles. To ask them to relish in those retired characters forever, however, and not try something new wouldn’t be fair.

Hey, a few million in syndication only goes so far.

Writers/creators Steve Levitan (“The Larry Sanders Show”) and Christopher Lloyd (“Frasier”) have great material to work with here and they know how to write a set up and punchline as good as anyone.

Three-camera/studio audience sitcoms seem the way of dinosaur these days, with laffers like “Curb Your Enthusiam” (for Variety’s review, click here), “Ugly Betty” and “30 Rock” leading the charge in a world where drama is dominating the primetime schedule. Comedy, however, is still viable and can come in many forms. And there’s nobody better than director James Burrows in knowing what makes us laugh.

So I’m on board “Back to You.” With a stellar turn in “Damages,” folks such as Ted Danson have proved this year that even actors with iconic characters on their resume can move on. The bigger question with “Back to You” could be will audiences too?

— Stuart Levine

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