Taped at CBS Studio Center, Studio City, Calif., by the Carsey-Werner Co. Executive producers, Chuck Lorre, Marcy Carsey, Tom Werner, Caryn Mandabach; supervising producers, Bob Dolan Smith, Wayne Lemon, Dava Savel; producer, Joanne Curley-Kerner; co-producer, Brenda Hanes-Berg; executive in charge of production, Rita Burton; writer-creator, Chuck Lorre; director, Michael Lessac; lighting design, Daniel Flannery; “Grace Under Fire” has several key factors in its favor: the blue-collar setting (generally underrepresented on TV), the know-how of production company Carsey-Werner, and a great timeslot. Because of these, the sitcom looks like a solid hit, even though it shows more potential than polish at this point.
The new series stars standup comic Brett Butler as Grace Kelly, an abused wife from Alabama who leaves an eight-year marriage to raise three kids herself; meanwhile, she’s working as one of two token women –“quota babes,” as she calls them — in a low-paying job at an oil refinery.
So the setup offers the opportunity for laughs at work, laughs with the kids and laughs with the recently divorced pharmacist (Dave Thomas) whom her best friend (Julie White) has set her up with.
Butler is a little scary: With her clenched jaw, raspy delivery and undercurrents of anger, it seems that if anyone crossed her, she could pin their shoulders to the ground in about three seconds.
But the producers, director Michael Lessac and writer-creator Chuck Lorre have done a good job in softening that persona. Butler has not fully made the transition from standup to actress, but she acquits herself adequately in the pilot, looking especially relaxed and funny in several scenes with Thomas.
That “SCTV” vet gives the best performance in the show and — a big relief — kid performers Kaitlin Cullum and Noah Segan are natural and likable. (However, after the premiere, Jon Paul Steuer takes over for Segan as the older son. Why ask why?)
As Grace’s 8-month-old, it’s impossible to tell at this point if Dylan and Cole Sprouse are the Olsen twins of tomorrow.
While C-W’s “Roseanne” has found the balance between humor and taboo/offbeat topics, “Grace” isn’t there yet. Several of the asides are tasteless-but-funny, while others — including one about the real Grace Kelly, and a subtle swipe at lesbian mothers — are just tasteless.
And there’s an odd scene in the refinery, as a supervisor tries to explain to the goonish male workers exactly what is acceptable behavior toward the newly arrived women. Grace jokingly undercuts him by asking the slobbering men to refer to her simply as a “throbbing mattress kitten” and jokes about taking showers with them. (When told by the other female that her jokes demean all women, she responds simply, “Honey, shut up.”)
Maybe the writer and producers have mistaken the working-class setting for an invitation to regressive humor; one hopes that as the series progresses they’ll learn how to be outrageous without being careless.