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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2009-2010 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on either a cut screened to us privately or a copy supplied by a third party NOT a screener provided by the network in question. All were received or screened prior to the networks' official mailings that went out in mid-June.]
SONS OF TUCSON (FOX)
(Sundays at 8:30/7:30c starting in January; TRT: 23:36)
The network's description: "In the tradition of "Malcolm in the Middle" and "The Bernie Mac Show," SONS OF TUCSON is a family comedy about three brothers who hire a charming, wayward schemer to stand in as their father when their real one goes to prison. What begins as a business relationship evolves into something more complex and compelling: a family unlike any we've ever seen. The three brothers find their dad-for-hire, RON SNUFFKIN (Tyler Labine, "Reaper"), at the local sporting good store. Ron will be forced to draw on a wide array of skills and a vast bag of tricks as he steps into the patriarch role to take care of the boys of the Gunderson family. ROBBY GUNDERSON (Davis Cleveland, "How I Met Your Mother"), 8, is a loose cannon who doesn't respond well to authority; GARY GUNDERSON (Frank Dolce, "Doubt"), 11, is a bright and street-savvy leader who is every bit the con man his father is; and BRANDON GUNDERSON (Troy Gentile, "Entourage"), 13, is a gentle free spirit who simply goes along for the ride. MAGGIE MORALES (Natalie Martinez, "Saints & Sinners"), Robby's second-grade teacher and the object of Ron's affection, might just be the only stable figure in the lives of this quirky quartet. While SONS OF TUCSON is grounded in the day-to-day challenges of a single-parent home, nothing in the Gunderson household is quite what it seems. An ongoing chess match between Ron and the boys will keep both parties on their toes, as neither side can afford to give up too much power or independence."
What did they leave out? Former "Malcolm in the Middle" star Justin Berfield is among the show's executive producers.
The plot in a nutshell: Gary (Frank Dolce), 11; Brandon (Troy Gentile), 13; and Robby (Davis Cleveland), 8, are looking for a new dad. You see their father got 25 years in prison for a "stock thing." And with their mother out of the picture, it's either foster care or find someone to pose as their pops when the need arises. Enter Ron Snuffkin (Tyler Labine, bringing his usual shtick): a Sports Space clerk who lives in his car, pockets dropped $20 bills and is more than willing to say his brother, his brother's wife and their kids are in the ICU after a lumberjacking accident to get out of work ("A chainsaw kicked up on them," he tearfully recounts). "He's a creep!" Robby protests. "Exactly," Gary responds. "He's perfect." You see after evaluating more than 100 potential dads, Ron is unfortunately the leading contender. And so the boys proposition Ron - pose as their dad at school for an hour and make $200. It seems that while they've got their housing problem solved (their dad has a house in Paloma Ridge he paid for with cash) they still need an actual parent to sign them up for school. Ron agrees and ends up passing himself off with flying colors.
Their agreement ended, Ron nevertheless ropes the kids into his own scheme: he's $2,000 in the hole to an unfriendly type named Tony (Jake Busey) and needs the kids to help him swindle his grandmother out of a set of antique toy soldiers to pay him off as she'll only give it to family that isn't him. The boys however don't play along, leaving Ron "homeless" in the process. But when Robby accidentally starts a fire at the school's fall festival, they find themselves crawling back to Ron once again. And thus begins their tug of war for each other's services. They need him to calm their principal's (Kurt Fuller) fears as well as sweet talk Robby's teacher (Natalie Martinez, who just so happens to be a former Sports Space customer) into letting him back into her class. Ron conversely needs the boys to play nice with his grandmother so he can pay off Tony. Both problems end up working out in slightly sitcomish fashion as they each realize they're going to need each other in the long haul - the school now thinks Ron is their dad while Ron desperately needs an upgrade to his living (and cash) situation.
What works: It's nice to see perennial second banana Labine get his own show as his scruffy charm fits nicely with what the show is going for. The kids are also enjoyably non-precocious, whether it be Gary's put-downs ("Ron, our dad was a major player in the banking world, you sell balls. See a difference there? A little bit? Maybe?") or Brandon's sensitivity (Brandon: "We could have gone with the biker guy I picked out." Gary: "He was black, Brandon." Brandon: "And you can't get past that?"). The show also wisely veers away from any saccharine moments as both parties are still miles away from actually caring about each other.
What doesn't: Labine's antics prove to be either a little too lightweight or a little too perfect for what the story is calling for. Ron isn't actually clever, his lies just prove to be the exact key needed to open the locks on the boy's problems. From getting the principal to break down over his absentee parenting or recounting the horrors he experienced during Katrina to explain where the kids' mom is, it all feels like "I can't believe they're buying this." Sure it's TV - there's always some suspension of disbelief, but it's one thing to nod your head and go along and another to wonder why things are actually going along. The addition of Martinez's Maggie late in the game also comes across as odd - she remembers him from the store but doesn't seem to connect the dots that he told a line full of customers he was taking off to fly to Seattle to see his brother and his family after their "accident" or that a single father working at a sporting goods store impossibly manages to send three kids to private school. That being said, "Tucson" is genuinely funny in parts, so there's always hope it could...
The bottom line: ...turn into a solid show.