Parent mortality is always a convenient sitcom premise — it’s less of a downer than mom being out of the picture because, say, she’s a meth addict — forcing ill-equipped adults to assume a guardian role. Enter “Wendell & Vinnie,” Nickelodeon’s version of “Two and a Half Men,” if Jon Cryer’s character died six months earlier in a tragic accident. The series stars “iCarly’s” Jerry Trainor as the grown-up Peter Pan charged with raising an orphaned middle-schooler, who of course is far more mature than Trainor’s Vinnie is. Is it good? No. Is it watchable if you’re 9? Probably.
Vinnie spends most of his time playing videogames, assembling pop-culture memorabilia and saying things like, “My Thor-themed Mini Cooper is not dumb!” Still, his brother left him custody of 12-year-old Wendell (Buddy Handleson), a bookish genius who lacks the fun gene and joins the building’s petition asking Vinnie to keep down the racket he makes from his juvenile pastimes.
Not surprisingly, Vinnie’s parenting style is second-guessed by his older sister (Nicole Sullivan), who thinks he’s out of his depth. Meanwhile, he uses stewardship of Wendell as a come-on to impress an attractive new neighbor (Hayley Strode), who insists she’s not interested.
Created by “Frasier” alum Jay Kogen, Vinnie’s a screw-up, yes, but his heart’s in the right place, ensuring the show will violate “Seinfeld’s” famous “No hugging, no learning” rule — repeatedly.
Although Dan Castellaneta (the voice of Homer Simpson) guests in the premiere as an irritated neighbor, “Wendell & Vinnie” suffers from a general lack of support, with Sullivan instantly over the top as the man-hunting sister. That mostly leaves Trainor to carry the load, putting his goofy charm to the test, since the idea of adults liking comicbooks is already put to much better use on “The Big Bang Theory.”
There are always those who maintain they’re eager for more family-oriented comedies, and “Wendell & Vinnie” certainly fits the bill. That said, if kids who tune in find their own parents have suddenly gone missing, there’s no need to call a relative; it’ll likely be because they’ve chosen to take refuge in another room.