The SONS OF TUCSON Are Charming Enough in the First 3 Episodes of FOX’s Newest Sitcom

     March 13, 2010

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FOX has allotted one of its plummest timeslots for Sons of Tucson.  The new comedy will air Sundays after ratings smash Family Guy, in effect marring the “Animation Domination” moniker.  However, while the characters are live-action, their actions do not fall too far outside the realm of cartoon.  Essentially a family comedy without the nuisance of parental guidance, Tucson shoots for the delicate balance between wacky and sentiment that Modern Family nails weekly over on ABC.  In the first three episodes, Tucson proves that this blended family is good for at least a few laughs each week.

Find out just how good after the break.

Sons of Tucson image FOX (5).jpgFrank Dolce, Matthew Levy, and Benjamin Stockham star as the three Gunderson boys: responsible Gary, sensitive Brandon, and violent Bobby.  Mrs. Gunderson died long ago, and Mr. Gunderson has been sent to prison for white collar crime, leaving our young protagonists as virtual orphans with a cashflow.  To avoid social services, the boys look to hire a father for a day to sign them up for school.  Enter Ron Snuffkin (Tyler Labine), an affable loser with a gift for bending the truth and a desperate need for money.  Ron finds that he likes the setup at the Gunderson household, and by the end of the pilot convinces the boys to keep him on retainer to satisfy all future fraudulent parental needs.

If you’re reminded of the quirky three-son family sitcom Malcolm in the Middle, you should be.  Todd Holland, who directed the Malcolm pilot, also helmed the Tucson launch, and Justin Berfield (Reese on Malcolm) is credited as executive producer.  While their influence is evident, the initial episodes of Tucson are not quite as inspired as the analagous opening half hours of Malcolm, if only because the hectic family comedy is not quite so fresh more than a decade after Malcolm debuted to huge ratings for FOX.  Yet Tucson is at least as worthy a descendant as this season’s other freshman copycat, The Middle, over on ABC.

As is paramount for a comedy, there are plenty of laughs to be found in the first three episodes.  However, your enjoyment of the series will likely depend on your tolerance for the fast-talking antics of Labine.  Reminiscent of a young Jack Black, Labine garnered a small fan base for his role as “Sock” on the short lived Reaper; if you liked him then, you’ll be happy to know that it’s more of the same on Tucson.  I don’t find Labine quite so uproarious, so giving him free rein for a half hour each Sunday is an ominous prospect.  But he mostly won me over, as the sweeter side of his humor was never overwhelmed by the show’s frequent exploration of fat-guy slapstick.

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Of the show’s adolescent stars, Stockham shines the brightest.  The writers are smart to keep his Robby mostly monosyllabic, so that the comedy does not rely so heavily on the line delivery of a nine-year-old.  I don’t know if the baby-faced tough guy act will be quite so funny as Stockham approaches puberty, but for now it serves as a show highlight.  Dolce’s character is obnoxious by design, manages the straight man role well, while Levy injects a welcome dose of earnestness into the narrative.

If you are a fan of Tyler Labine’s schtick–a perfectly understandable position–Tucson is for you.  If you’ve never heard of Tyler Labine, but find Jack Black unreservedly hilarious, definitely check the show out.  But if you think that the Labine/Black brand of comedy tends to grate over long periods–as I do from time to time–approach with caution, and I hope you find as much to latch on to as I did.

Sons of Tucson premieres Sunday, March 14th at 9:30/8:30c.

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