Critics invariably have a least-favorite new series each fall, and CBS has generously obliged with “Center of the Universe,” a colossal waste of a talented cast in a show with little point or purpose. John Goodman has the title role as the set-upon guy who holds a crazy family together, but crass writing and overly broad gags result in a series that makes “Yes, Dear” look like “Masterpiece Theater.” Blessed with a hammocked berth between “King of Queens” and “CSI: New York,” sheer inertia is this sitcom’s best chance of not becoming a chalk outline.
John Barnett (Goodman) and his wife Kate (Jean Smart) love each other, but oy, the relatives. Their kid (“The Cat in the Hat’s” Spencer Breslin) is a nerd who favors sport coats, John’s brother (Diedrich Bader) is a slacker, his sister (Melinda McGraw) has man trouble, and his Viagra-popping dad (Ed Asner) is aggravating his equally nutty mom (Olympia Dukakis).
Despite all that to keep them busy, in the premiere, John and Kate decide to renew their wedding vows, an event of course threatened by members of the wacky brood each imploding for one reason or another. This forces John to make like the COTU and reestablish order in his little world.
Beyond the fact that nearly everyone here has been in a much better comedy, there’s something decidedly retro about the program, with producing team Mitchel Katlin and Nat Bernstein aspiring to a level of zaniness that never materializes. Although everyone appears to be giving their all, the tone is thus uniformly lifeless — perhaps because the entire show feels as if it were pieced together from parts of old sitcoms.
Credit Goodman’s work ethic between this and his voice stint on “Father of the Pride.” After a seminal comedy like “Roseanne,” though, it’s too bad he hasn’t been more selective in subsequent sitcom choices, as anyone who remembers “Normal, Ohio” can attest.
The same can largely be said of CBS’ comedy development, with “Two and a Half Men” representing a recent anomaly by actually being funny. Granted, the network clearly has no intention of reinventing the wheel, but sister Viacom networks Nick at Nite and TV Land already serve up more laudable reruns nightly for those hungering for this kind of warmed-over dish.