Against the Grain

NBC takes a chance on a family drama series in the 8 p.m. Friday slot, and the winning pilot's characters' richness could coax viewers away from "Family Matters." In the opening story by Mike Pavone and Dave Alan Johnson, the football-devoted citizens of Sumpter, Texas (near Dallas), are sympathetic, but the hero's so damn good he could make teeth ache.

With:
Cast: John Terry, Donna Bullock, Ben Affleck, Vanessa Lee Evigan, Wayne Knight, Stephen Tobolowsky, Derek McGrath, Jeanine Jackson, Michael Cudlitz, Jon Clair, Rick Peters, Hugh Gillin, Robyn Lively, Michael Warren, Candace Houston, Denise Lee Richards, Kimberly Cullum, Tim Griffin, J. Frank Stewart, Joe Ochman, Ed Krieger, Tim Haldeman, Cheryl Rhoads, Julie Araskog, Lara Steinick, Brent Corman, Shiri Appleby, Ivan Gueron, Lindsey Fields, Annie Waterman.

NBC takes a chance on a family drama series in the 8 p.m. Friday slot, and the winning pilot’s characters’ richness could coax viewers away from “Family Matters.” In the opening story by Mike Pavone and Dave Alan Johnson, the football-devoted citizens of Sumpter, Texas (near Dallas), are sympathetic, but the hero’s so damn good he could make teeth ache.

An eloquent, authoritative John Terry plays new high school coach Ed Clemons, who hands his insurance business over to comely wife Maggie (Donna Bullock). Right off the bat there’s a conflict of interest, because sophomore son Joe Willie (Ben Affleck) plays football, and good-hearted, self-centered Ed can’t see anything wrong as he promotes his son to quarterback.

After all, Joe Willie’s the best one for the job.

Ed, though he insists every member of the team is as important as any other member, loses sight of the philosophy himself. He steps on Maggie’s toes about an insurance policy for local businessman Froggy (Wayne Knight), and he tosses out an arrogant quarterback, replacing him with Joe Willie, who resents the move. The model of purity, Ed won’t look at a tape of the opposing team’s tactics. He asks players what they learned in school today, and he proves to the fallen ex-quarterback that he can physically take him out.

Ed’s nobility skates close to smugness. Terry makes Ed an ingratiating but persuasive gent who’d better not be crossed. He’s abrupt and self-assured — and always right, or soon sees that it looks right.

So far, Bullock’s Maggie is a strong, loving wife and mother, and Affleck is likable as son Joe Willie, while Rick Peters as Bobby Taylor, the downgraded quarterback, is solid. Vanessa Lee Evigan ably limns 12-year-old Clemons daughter Jenny, and Robyn Lively plays a second daughter, Jill, who’s away at college.

First episode deals mostly with Ed’s ambitions and actions. A onetime high school pigskin hero himself, he seems intent on giving his players a helping hand by prolonging his own heroic status. No matter how congenially Terry plays Ed, viewers will soon be wondering about this Mr. Right.

David Calloway’s well-produced opener shows great series potential.

Against the Grain

(Fri. (1), 8-9 p.m., NBC)

Production: Filmed in Santa Paula and the San Fernando Valley by the Lee Rich Co., Magnum Prods. and Warner Bros. TV. Exec producers, Lee Rich, Bruce Sallan, Jeff Freilich; co-exec producers-creators, writers, Mike Pavone, Dave Alan Johnson; producer, David Calloway; co-producer, Bernie Laramie; director, Steve Miner.

Crew: Camera, Bob McBride; editors, Dennis Vejar, Kyle Curry; art director, Bill Rea; sound, Michael Moore; music, John Debney.

Cast: Cast: John Terry, Donna Bullock, Ben Affleck, Vanessa Lee Evigan, Wayne Knight, Stephen Tobolowsky, Derek McGrath, Jeanine Jackson, Michael Cudlitz, Jon Clair, Rick Peters, Hugh Gillin, Robyn Lively, Michael Warren, Candace Houston, Denise Lee Richards, Kimberly Cullum, Tim Griffin, J. Frank Stewart, Joe Ochman, Ed Krieger, Tim Haldeman, Cheryl Rhoads, Julie Araskog, Lara Steinick, Brent Corman, Shiri Appleby, Ivan Gueron, Lindsey Fields, Annie Waterman.

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