Look at it from TV Guide Network’s perspective: The channel can’t afford “Modern Family” reruns, much less a scripted approximation. So it has replicated a small part of that hit on the cheap in “Unusually Thicke,” a reality-sitcom hybrid that casts 67-year-old TV personality Alan Thicke as the irascible husband, and his 28-years-younger (and more curvaceous) third wife, Tanya, as his sparring spouse. Filled with celebrity cameos, the show works so far as viewers are willing to play along, although for the target demo, Thicke has probably been relegated to, “Oh, you mean Robin’s dad?” consideration.
As has become status quo in these shows, the program dispenses with formal introductions and dives right in, gradually doling out information about the couple and Thicke’s young son, Carter, who lives with them.
In the premiere, Tanya gripes about Alan’s pack-rat ways, pushing him to get rid of all the junk he’s collected. (Of course, being Canadian — the show also benefits from Canadian financial credits — his hockey skates are immediately deemed off-limits.)
Carter, meanwhile, sees a garage sale as both a solution to the clutter and a money-making scheme for himself, before it’s decided all proceeds should go to charity. For her part, Tanya grouses about Alan to a “Real Housewives”-like cadre of friends that includes actress Minnie Driver, while Alan enlists pal Bob Saget to drop by the sale, a bit like those old cameos on “I Love Lucy.” (As was true then, a performer’s willingness to play along would seem to offer a small referendum on the present state of their career.)
In most respects, “Unusually Thicke” is more staged than most sitcoms, and Thicke’s history as a sitcom dad (“Growing Pains”) and latenight host (honest, kids, he had his own show back before you were born) has helped him cultivate his repertoire of deadpan looks and direct-to-camera winks.
The show also finds TV Guide at something of a crossroads, with deep-pocketed owners in Lionsgate and CBS that obviously have bigger plans for the low-key but widely distributed channel.
So although it represents only a small dab of powder in a larger makeover, “Unusually Thicke” is a signal the host network won’t be content just to round up the usual suspects.