The last thing TV needs is another nostalgic sitcom narrated by a young boy (indeed, it’s almost time for a moratorium), but “Surviving Jack” conjures a few amusing moments, courtesy of its 1991 time frame and Chris Meloni’s quirky turn as the dad of every kid’s nightmares. Of course, Jack really isn’t such a bad guy, just a taskmaster given a free hand to oversee his teens while mom goes back to school. The first two episodes are slight but breezy, and it’s at least nice to see Meloni doing something other than grimly circle a chalk outline.
Undaunted by the fate of “$#*! My Dad Says,” Fox has turned to that show’s author, Justin Halpern, as the source for this semi-autobiographical memoir about 16-year-old Frankie (Connor Buckley), and his sister (Claudia Lee), who must deal with dad’s uncompromising form of parenting.
Much of the premiere involves Frankie’s obsession with sex or, barring the real thing, dirty magazines, with the latter prompting Jack to inform him, “You will not have sex with a woman who looks like that ever in your life.”
When he isn’t terrorizing the kids — or teaching them life lessons not found in “The Cosby Show” playbook — Jack, a doctor by trade, banters with his wife (Rachael Harris) or angrily reads “Jurassic Park,” complaining about its improbability.
After his extended stretch on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and a string of tough-guy parts before that, Meloni feels like an inspired choice for this role, even if that’s about all “Jack” can muster in the way of inspiration. Mostly, it’s another throwback to the twin notions that writers like tackling what they know, and adolescence — with all its potential for humiliation and exultation — offers fertile if not particularly original ground for comedy.
Beyond Meloni, one more word here about casting: While it’s a given that teenagers in TV shows are played by twentysomethings, the “kids” here look especially unconvincing, raising the awkward specter of how long they’ll be able to sell the just-passed-my-driving-test phase if “Jack” actually does, you know, survive a while.
Then again, that would be a nice problem for Fox to have on Thursdays, where the lead-in from a half-hour “American Idol” isn’t what it used to be.
Of course, considering the reduced expectations, maybe “Surviving” could live up to its name. While, this assessment may sound wishy-washy, I can honestly say, I don’t know, “Jack.”