Fox hasn’t enjoyed a live-action comedy hit since “Malcolm in the Middle,” and has learned that incorporating flesh-and-blood characters into its Sunday animation block poses a considerable challenge. So the network reaches into an old bag for the “Malcolm”-like “Sons of Tucson,” whose timely premise — well-to-do kids need an aimless loser to masquerade as their father because real dad, a banker, is in prison — possesses more pop than the actual episodes. Tyler Labine brings manic energy to his role as the pseudo-pop, but the three brothers register closer to the bottom than middle of the sitcom-kid scale.
Ron Snuffkin (Labine, continuing to occupy the slacker-chic niche he mined on CW’s “Reaper” and ABC’s “Invasion”) is toiling away as a sporting-goods clerk when the kids recruit him, offering cash to get them through an awkward situation by helping to enroll them at a new school. Since Ron is living in his car, he accepts the gig.
After no small amount of squabbling and some complications involving the principal (Kurt Fuller) and an attractive teacher (Natalie Martinez), both parties realize the other might come in handy: Ron needs a place to crash that gets cable, and the boys’ precocious spokesman, Gary (Frank Dolce), recognizes that — even sitting on a stash of ill-gotten loot — if he wants to stay out of foster care, those parent-teacher nights aren’t going to attend themselves.
Yet despite a connection to “Malcolm” (exec producer-director Todd Holland spent four years on the earlier show), “Tucson” hasn’t done much to invigorate the formula. Mostly, the situations provide an excuse for Labine to fast-talk his way into and out of trouble, which is amusing so far as it goes. Yet while some have already compared his shtick to Jack Black, the reluctant, miscast guardian pose won’t necessarily make anyone forget “Uncle Buck.”
There also ought to be some kind of moratorium against sitcom kids mouthing off to adults, if only because it’s irritating to anyone old enough to shave — appealing to a demo perhaps better suited to the Disney Channel than Fox.
In the premiere, Ron tells the boys, “I think we work pretty well together,” which at the least sounds like a premature appraisal. On the plus side, the producers have cleverly sentenced “Tucson’s” unseen dad to 25 years, which even with time off for good behavior provides the series an ample cushion in success for an extended run.