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Grace Under Fire

Grace Under Fire" has several 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.

With:
Cast: Brett Butler, Dave Thomas, Julie White, Charles Hallahan, Casey Sander, Walter Olkewicz, Kaitlin Cullum, Dylan & Cole Sprouse, Noah Segan, Becky Thyre, Dave Florek, Bryan Clark, Thom Vernon, Skye Bassett, Phil Buckman, John Goodman (uncredited).

Grace Under Fire” has several 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.

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 works 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.

As a standup, Butler is a little scary: With her clenched jaw, flat delivery and undercurrents of anger, it seems that if anyone crossed her, she could pin their shoulders to the ground in aboutthree seconds.

However, 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 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.

However, while Carsey-Werner’s “Roseanne” has found the balance between humor and taboo/offbeat topics, “Grace” isn’t there yet. Several asides are tasteless but funny, while others — including one about the real Grace Kelly — 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.”)

That scene, and a thoughtless swipe at lesbian mothers, indicate that maybe the writer and producers have mistaken the working-class setting as an invitation to regressive humor. Hopefully as the skein progresses, they’ll learn how to be outrageous without being careless.

Tech credits, especially Garvin Eddy’s production design, are nice. And one of the skein’s other big pluses is its theme: Lennon-McCartney’s “Lady Madonna,” sung by Aretha Franklin.

Popular on Variety

Grace Under Fire

(Weds. (29), 9:30-10 p.m., ABC)

Production: Taped at CBS Studio Center, Studio City, by the Carsey-Werner Co. Exec 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; exec in charge of production, Rita Burton; writer-creator, Chuck Lorre; director, Michael Lessac; lighting design, Daniel Flannery.

Crew: Editor, Henry Chan; production designer, Garvin Eddy; sound, Thom Wilson; music, Dennis C. Brown.

Cast: Cast: Brett Butler, Dave Thomas, Julie White, Charles Hallahan, Casey Sander, Walter Olkewicz, Kaitlin Cullum, Dylan & Cole Sprouse, Noah Segan, Becky Thyre, Dave Florek, Bryan Clark, Thom Vernon, Skye Bassett, Phil Buckman, John Goodman (uncredited).

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