There are enough older men running around with young women that it seems only fair to grant the reverse pairing equal time, but did it have to be as smarmy as this meshuga Fran Drescher vehicle? Six years after “The Nanny,” Drescher returns as star and exec producer in a WB sitcom paired with “Reba,” which toplines another unlikely heroine for the teen-centric network. Broad and obvious, “Living With Fran” continues the WB’s strategy of steadfastly avoiding any comedy that remotely risks speaking down to its audience. And God help us, it might work.
The formula would be less unsavory if the character driving the action weren’t Fran’s 21-year-old son, Josh (Ben Feldman), who returns home after being kicked out of medical school, only to find his mom shacked up with a 26-year-old contractor, Riley (Ryan McPartlin). Just to drive the point home, Josh’s teenage sister (Misti Traya), who’s fine with the arrangement, tells him, “He sleeps in mom’s bed. With mom.”
The saving grace here, actually, is McPartlin as Riley, a likable lug in a Jethro kind of way, who keeps trying to treat Josh like his stepkid. Things would be a bit less creepy, meanwhile, if Fran didn’t refer to both her son and boyfriend as “sweetie,” which she coos roughly every seven seconds.
Speaking of overkill, seemingly all the jokes stem from this November-June relationship, including a second episode in which Riley’s parents (played by John Schneider and Marilu Henner, who looks worthy of her own boy toy) surprise him, only to be shocked by the age gap. “We go antiqueing a lot together,” Fran tells her potential mother-in-law, yielding the inevitable eyebrow-arched retort. Hi-yo!
So Fran’s son is nasty with Riley, and Riley’s parents are rude to her. If there are any further permutations here, they had better present themselves quickly. (Based on the press notes, disapproval will greet them “everywhere they turn,” so apparently that one note is going to get quite a workout.)
There is one peculiar riff about Fran having adopted a guy who lives in Josh’s closet, the sort of wacky houseguest that seems to have been imported from another show. Then again, that might be the case.
After all, just to get this far, “Living With Fran” has survived its own makeover or three, with former “Roseanne” survivor Bob Myer having finally been enlisted after the pilot (at which point Mike Langworthy became a consultant) to oversee production.
And with multiple bites at the apple, this is the best they could do? As Fran might say, “Oy, sweetie.”