ABC’s “Madigan Men” plays the Irish card so often it’s a surprise that Lucky Charms hasn’t paid for product placement. Still, despite the predictable “Riverdance” wisecrack and obligatory pint-o’-lager scene, Gabriel Byrne’s series television debut is a light, breezy winner full of solid, single-dad shtick and some quality performances. It’s hardly the freshest thing on the fall schedule, but it’s a good fit with laffers “Two Guys and a Girl,” “The Trouble With Normal” and “Norm” on a night when all the competition is focused on drama.
The main reason “Madigan Men” isn’t just another family sitcom is the casting. Byrne and Tony award winner Roy Dotrice (co-stars in Broadway’s “A Moon for the Misbegotten”) handle the rim shot one-liners with a bit more class than auds may have come to expect on Friday night. And though Byrne’s comic timing is a bit off at first, he eventually comes around, appearing comfortable and confident as the cliched plot points fall into place.
Byrne is Benjamin Madigan, a recently separated Manhattan architect who lost his wife to their nutritionist. When he’s not sulking over his inability to find a date, he’s trying to bond with Luke (John C. Hensley), his teenager, who has an eye on every girl in the building.
There’s also Seamus (Dotrice), Benjamin’s opinionated father who decides to stay in the States after a short visit. With snide comments about child rearing and his own romantic adventures, the old coot adds a dose of sarcasm and crudeness to the life of a man who is searching for his own direction.
When Benjamin isn’t getting zinged at home, he’s at work, where his business partner Alex (“Murphy Brown’s” Grant Shaud) breaks his chops for being such a sad sack. (Secretary in the pilot has since been replaced by “Sports Night’s” Sabrina Lloyd.)
In week one, Benjamin ditches plans with Luke to take a beautiful woman to dinner. Only when he mistakes her genuine friendliness for serious flirting does he realize that raising a teen will be more difficult than planned.
“Madigan Men” feels absolutely dated at times, but rises above stale humor due to Byrne and Dotrice’s pleasant deliveries and vet helmer James Burrows’ brisk direction. Instead of twentysomethings raising babies or sitting around a coffee house, these guys are sweet gentlemen just looking for some well-earned stability. And like “Frasier,” its chief strength lies within the broken relationship between a senior citizen and his middle-aged son.
But not everything clicks. Whenever “Madigan Men” focuses on Luke, the show turns a bit sappy.Its writing staff would do better to keep future segs centered around the men and their “adult” problems and leave the kid stuff alone.
Tech credits, highlighted by Cabot McMullen’s stylish production design, are pro.