On its face, “Melissa & Joey” is an odd throwback to ABC’s “TGIF” comedy niche of yesteryear, albeit with Melissa Joan Hart (once “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”) and Joey Lawrence (“Brotherly Love”) occupying the adult roles. Look a little closer, though, and this drearily familiar comedy is laced with some surprisingly blue language, making you wonder for whom it’s intended. Adults? Only those whose undemanding vision is helpfully clouded by nostalgia. Kids? Perhaps a few older ones, but probably not many of their younger siblings if parents are paying attention.
A local councilwoman, the eponymous Melissa has become the unlikely guardian to her rebellious teenage niece (Taylor Spreitler) and adolescent nephew (Nick Robinson), thanks to her sister being imprisoned and brother-in-law fleeing the country in the wake of an ill-defined scandal. Urged to hire a nanny by her officious aide (Elizabeth Ho), she has a meet-cute encounter with Joe (Lawrence), a “homeless commodities trader” impoverished by the family’s misdeeds.
Naturally, Joe ends up applying for the nanny (or rather, “manny”) job, and quickly proves his worth in dealing with the kids. At the same time, the two leads (who co-starred in last year’s ABC Family movie “My Fake Fiance”) must keep insisting how attracted they aren’t to each other.
So far, so “Who’s the Boss?” revisited. The surprise, such as it is, resides in producers Bob Young and David Kendall’s pilot script, which has Joe refer to “Vagino-Americans,” Melissa accuse him of pulling something “out of your ass” and makes reference to the niece hurling an epithet at her teacher rhyming with “Ms. Lunt.” OK, so our little ABC Family is growing up; but barring desperation (or lack of imagination), do the gags have to be as blunt as all that?
ABC Family has been on something of a creative roll on the dramatic side, including “Huge,” one of this summer’s brightest lights — in the process earning its former chief, Paul Lee, a promotion to ABC.
“Melissa & Joey,” by contrast, represents a decided lurch back toward the bland old days, grasping at “TGIF’s” ostensible niche while offering precious little for which to be thankful.