Kelsey Grammer occupies center stage in every scene of the “Hank” premiere, which at least tells you the producers (and Grammer is among them) know what their primary asset is. Essentially “Green Acres” updated with a corporate-tycoon-gets-humbling-comeuppance twist that’s less timely than it sounds, this multicamera half-hour does little more than provide reasonably pleasant company, while looking and sounding as if it could have been developed when “Cheers” begin its run.
Grammer’s Hank Pryor was a sporting-goods CEO who’s introduced saying goodbye to his posh Park Avenue digs in Manhattan — a more understated take on “Goodbye, city life!” — after the board ousted him. Hank, his wife Tilly (Melinda McGraw) and their two kids — a hyper young son (Nathan Gamble) and easily riled teenage daughter (Jordan Hinson) — are moving back to River Bend, Va., hoping to “rise from the ashes where it all began.”
In theory, disembarking from the fast track will allow Hank to spend time with his family in a way he previously hadn’t. The problem is he’s not particularly good at it, yielding another inept sitcom dad, while mom patiently looks on –and, seemingly, withholds sex each time he screws up.
The other elements here include Tilly’s brother (the always welcome Dave Koechner, initially under-utilized), who, as Hank notes, relishes the thought of welcoming his once-rich brother-in-law “back to his tax bracket.”
Frankly, both of Grammer’s post-“Frasier” comedies — this one and Fox’s “Back to You,” would have been a better fit on CBS, though the star’s prospects at that network probably weren’t advanced by his decision to belittle Leslie Moonves during a summer press forum. (Hey, it’s not like the CBS CEO would hold a grudge, right?)
Such considerations aside, “Hank” demonstrates Grammer hasn’t lost his touch when it comes to wryly delivering a line; it’s just that too few of the lines in Tucker Cawley’s script are memorably worth delivering. And really, the only thing that distinguishes this from the “Home Improvement” era are a few glancing references to President Obama, since Hank’s liberal daughter is a “Yes We Can” fan.
ABC has unabashedly gone for star power in assembling its new comedy block, and probably felt it had taken its one creative gamble with the far better “Modern Family.” After that, what’s wrong with a little comedic comfort food?
As for Grammer, his 20-year run as Frasier Crane has already secured his place among sitcom greats. While “Hank” doesn’t promise to add much cachet to those Hall of Fame credentials, this is a show transparently designed for paychecks, not posterity.