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Champs

Family Ties" creator Gary David Goldberg returns to the sitcom series wars in an offering rife with drop-dead one-liners and taut writing that uses school sports glory to cement show's underlying pro-social messages. He also proves that many of life's hurdles can in fact be explained with basketball metaphors.

With:
Cast: Timothy Busfield, Ashley Crow, Ed Marinaro, Kevin Nealon, Ron McLarty, Paul McCrane, Libby Winters, Danny Pritchett.

Family Ties” creator Gary David Goldberg returns to the sitcom series wars in an offering rife with drop-dead one-liners and taut writing that uses school sports glory to cement show’s underlying pro-social messages. He also proves that many of life’s hurdles can in fact be explained with basketball metaphors. Series preem deals with Tom (Timothy Busfield), whose glee over his daughter’s landing the lead in a school play is offset by the disclosure that the marriage of his best friend, Marty (Kevin Nealon), is on the rocks.

The guys — all former members of a championship college basketball team — pride themselves on their ability to discuss personal issues openly, in a sort of B-ball sweat lodge.

While acknowledging that Marty’s plight is serious, Tom is more shocked at the news because it came from Linda (Ashley Crow), Tom’s wife, and not his best pal, with whom he’s supposed to have unbridled communication.

Show subtly, and quite deftly, tackles the revelation that despite their feelings of free communication, the guys don’t reveal much.

The exception is the verbose Vince (Ed Marinaro), who constantly regales the group with annoying ex-wife peccadilloes and the lifestyle shortcomings of his former teammates.

After a soul-searching shoot-around session on the backyard basketball court, Tom suggests Marty bunk in, which leads to a sleepover in the attic and more male bonding — and more jokes.

Busfield significantly advances from his whiny “thirtysomething” persona to a more watchable one as the father of an abnormally well-adjusted suburban family.

His is the perfect foil for “Saturday Night Live” alumnus Nealon, whose own brand of understated humor constantly tests his fellow cast members’ comedic timing.

Scribe Goldberg weaves a funny tale, tapping dialogue that sounds natural while adding the de rigueur sitcom potshots.

Director Will Mackenzie — a sitcom stalwart in his own right — leads his talented cast into as much of a team effort as they espouse when recalling their glory days on the court.

Champs

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

Production: Filmed in Los Angeles by Ubu Prods. and DreamWorks SKG in association with ABC Entertainment. Executive producer, Gary David Goldberg; producer, Linda Nieber; supervising producers, Alan Unger, Patricia Jones, Donald Reiker; director, Will Mackenzie; writer, Goldberg.

Crew: Camera, Mikel Neiers; editor, Jay Scherberth; production designer, David Sackeroff; sound, Jesse Peck; music; Starr Parodie, Jeff Eden Fair.

Cast: Cast: Timothy Busfield, Ashley Crow, Ed Marinaro, Kevin Nealon, Ron McLarty, Paul McCrane, Libby Winters, Danny Pritchett.

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