Seemingly terrified to actually be about something, “Leah Remini: It’s All Relative” starts with a potentially interesting concept — the actress having broken with the Church of Scientology — and throws it away for just another celebrity-sitcom-on-the-cheap, casting her extended family in supporting roles. The former “King of Queens” star dutifully mugs for the camera — even if that involved doing ordinary things, like making dinner, in heavy makeup — but ultimately settles for banality at every turn. Granted, that’s probably in TLC’s comfort zone, but given its past sojourns with the Amish and polygamists, the network seems to have squandered an opportunity.
The series is introduced with back-to-back episodes, the first of which finds Remini planning a party, dragging her family — including husband Angelo and young daughter Sofia — into the uncomfortable direct-to-camera interviews.
“We’re pretty loud, annoying, judgmental. But we do love each other,” she says, sounding a lot like, well, pretty much every other celeb-reality-com on TV.
Except the party is intended to celebrate those who have stayed close to her after she broke with Scientology, an act that elicits shunning from members of the church in good standing. And while Remini briefly discusses the jarring experience of having people abruptly cut her off, that’s all dispatched in a few minutes, the better to get back to a sitcom “B” plot about Angelo wanting to discard some of the stuff that Leah hoards.
Subsequent episodes continue strictly in that vein, with Leah’s mom, Vicki, providing a regular butt for her daughter’s jokes, in setup situations like Vicki demanding they stage a mock funeral for her now, so she can get a taste of what people will say about her when she’s gone. Plus, there are stock exchanges like this one, in the second episode, which Leah opens by turning to her sister and saying, “Can we talk about your boobs for a second?”
Um, seriously, can we not?
Remini is refreshing in one modest respect — she refuses to ignore the camera crews, occasionally addressing them — but she’s so self-conscious about feeding the producers sitcom reactions that the show feels even more stilted than most. There’s also no way around the fact this project feels like another one of those the-phone’s-stopped-ringing exercises, building a sitcom in a way that trades off an actor’s profile and employs the whole clan, in addition to simultaneously promoting the family restaurant.
“It’s All Relative” is produced by Gurney Prods. — the company behind “Duck Dynasty” — which has clearly mastered the edited-sitcom format. Given the show’s modest appeal and general lack of pretensions, it certainly doesn’t deserve to be shunned; ignored, however, is another matter.