Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: A patronizing, pontificating, bumbling doofus thinks he knows everything, only to be thwarted in the end by his smarter, better-looking wife. The man of the house pounds his chest, wifey sits back and lets him make an ass of himself, but nobody ever asks: If the wife is so damn smart, why did she marry such a boob? To be fair, Jim Belushi’s bumbling father figure in the ABC comedy “According to Jim” has a certain primal appeal. The sometimes bigscreen star has never really found his niche, but paired with the Alphabet’s modest midseason hit “My Wife and Kids,” Belushi may yet find a home.
Fox’s “Grounded for Life,” another bumbling-dad comedy starring Donal Logue, stands out as the only possible homewrecker for Belushi at 8:30 p.m. Otherwise Wednesday night is demographically divided between “Dawson’s Creek’s” teens, “Enterprise’s” Trekkers and, once “Lost” ends, “Ed.”
Pilot introduces Jim and his put-upon wife, Cheryl (Courtney Thorne-Smith), who struggle through the day-to-day with three kids. The current turmoil revolves around their eldest daughter’s first day of kindergarten. Ruby (Taylor Atelian) has separation issues and Cheryl winds up spending the day at the school. Jim boasts that it’s a situation easily handled because men are tougher.
Jim is uncomfortable with anything less than a full tank of testosterone. He doesn’t like to open up to his wife or his friends. He enjoys sports, playing in his garage blues band and avoiding responsibility. Of course, the tough act is all a ruse because Jim can’t bear to leave his crying daughter either, and ends up switching her school without telling his wife.
Writers Tracy Newman and Jonathan Stark do a nice job of incorporating realistic parental dialogue, including several familiar mantras, while director Andy Cadiff offers some good sight gags involving loose change as well as the fighting rituals of married couples. For the most part, however, the concept is pedestrian and secondary characters are reduced to stereotypes.
The show works better when it stays within the family unit, where Belushi is key; he reps the definition of a lovable lug. His character’s idea of playing with the kids is sitting in the chair and reading the newspaper. It’s a stunt he pulls off while still remaining likable.
Thorne-Smith’s role as the overburdened wife is a big step down from her glamour days on “Melrose Place” and “Ally McBeal.” She is working her way up the alphabet in terms of network exposure, but lacks some credibility as the mature mother and wife.
Ancillary characters don’t quite add up, either. Kimberly Williams stars as Cheryl’s younger, single sister Dana, who pops in and out the house at all hours offering up bitter barbs. When preschooler Gracie, Jim’s youngest daughter, announces at breakfast, “I have a vagina,” Dana retorts, “Me too. That means we have to work twice as hard as men to earn the same money.”
Larry Joe Campbell, whose resume includes last season’s miserable “The Trouble With Normal,” is Cheryl’s neurotic brother who makes Jim look like a catch. All that’s missing is the meddling neighbor.