Hard to believe a sitcom that could be titled “My Five Sons” plays like a blast of fresh air, but that’s what smart execution will do for you. Cleansing his palate after “The Passion of the Christ” (whose flogging scene ran longer than this pilot), producer Mel Gibson has directed an opening half-hour that hums along with sharp writing, buoyant energy and a generally amusing tone. An edgier fit for what ABC’s “TGIF” lineup once embodied, “Complete Savages” doesn’t figure to be a huge hit given its timeslot, but should appeal to whomever ABC can lure to the party.
About as low-concept and spartan as comedy gets, the series stars Keith Carradine as Nick, the firefighter single dad to five rambunctious boys. Having chased away nearly two dozen housekeepers since mom bolted a decade earlier, Nick decides to force his brood to learn homemaking skills by fending for themselves.
What follows is a battle of wills, with the boys resisting their chores, trying to compel dad to cave in and solicit help — preferably hot young French help, per the older boys’ request.
In a sense, the show plays like an antidote to the sobriety of the WB’s “Jack & Bobby,” since things here are less about nurturing brothers toward future greatness than creatively abusing them, which includes thrusting a younger boy’s face into an older one’s armpit. Somehow, the abuse promises to register more realistically for many teens, along with adults who can remember their formative years.
Bringing a bit of heart to the mayhem is shy Sam (the promising Andrew Eiden), who has a crush on a neighbor girl but can’t muster the gumption to ask her to a school dance. Seeking to break the no-cleaning impasse, Nick invites her over, resulting in a laugh-out-loud sequence as Sam sits on the couch while his family coaches him through the date by whacking him in the head with a hockey stick.
Series creators Julie Thacker-Scully and Mike Scully have “The Simpsons” on their resume, and unlike a lot of people who have passed through those hallowed halls, some lessons about not too tart, not too sweet family comedy clearly stuck. For starters, any show where the dog eats dinner at the table with everyone else can’t be all bad.
Carradine brings just the right bemused detachment to the role, economically creating a gruff, caring guy who in many ways is just an overgrown kid himself.
The irony of ironies, of course, is that as NBC has struggled to find worthy comedies in recent years, the network finally found one courtesy of ABC parent Disney in the form of “Scrubs,” a laudable show even if it’s not a stand-alone hit. Now the tables are reversed, with ABC garnering what could represent some much-needed aid from NBC Universal.
It’s always nice to see the rambunctious children playing nice together, especially when they’re part of vast global media conglomerates.