Say “Stop!” any time if you’ve heard this one: Two parents are happily embracing the prospect of being empty nesters – “Sex whenever we want!” “Smoking pot in the house!” – when both of their twentysomething daughters unexpectedly move back home. Were it not for Patrick Warburton and Carrie Preston in the leads, there would be precious little to recommend “Crowded,” a sitcom whose most honest title would simply be “Tired.”
NBC will give the show an obligatory preview behind “The Voice,” but one suspects the crowds will dissipate soon after. Created by Suzanne Martin (“Hot in Cleveland”), and boasting ace sitcom director James Burrows, “Crowded” feels like a throwback on every conceivable level. And while there’s a certain current element to kids whose financial struggles have forced them to move back home, the nature of the jokes quickly makes this feel as if the series emerged from an early-1990s time warp.
Warburton’s Mike and Preston’s Martina are at first devastated about their children being gone (in an opening sequence that flies through the premise), but they don’t have much time to get acclimated to their new-found freedom before the pair (Miranda Cosgrove, Mia Serafino) return – one a free-spirited actress, the other a buttoned-down brainiac. Moreover, Mike’s dad (Stacy Keach) and stepmom (Carlease Burke), who excel at getting under his skin, scuttle their plans to move to Florida, adding another generational layer and a few topical jokes, as dad crows about how progressive he is because his wife is black, while admitting that he misses Richard Nixon.
Warburton is one of those performers who was virtually created in the lab for sitcoms (with his deep-set eyes and rumbling baritone, he’s practically a walking cartoon character), but there’s only so much that can be done with a show so mired in clichés. On top of that, NBC will schedule the series – whose most memorable footnote might be that Burrows notched his 1,000th directing credit on it – with “The Carmichael Show” on Sunday nights, historically not the most hospitable environment for half-hours.
In a larger sense, “Crowded” makes its debut at a moment where multi-camera comedies have seen their market share dwindle, to the point where there’s a tendency to root for something to break through. Still, when the goods are as uninspired as this one, even one can feel like a crowd.