ABC (Wed., Sept. 23, 9:30 p.m. ET)
What producer Jay Tarses did to women in Molly Dodd—presenting them as sorrowful, pathetic souls plagued by bad judgment in love and life—he now does to the rest of mankind in Slap Maxwell, where men are grungy, sour has-beens. Dabney (Buffalo Bill) Coleman is an ink-stained wretch of a sportswriter who gets fired by his newspaper in the first show. Coleman and the cast are as good as they can be, but they’re forever being upstaged by the scriptwriters, who beg for attention, who demand that you see how clever they are. “We really do come up with some snappy repartee, don’t we? Kinda hip ‘n’ sassy,” the writers have Coleman say. “Yet fraught with underlying meaning,” they have a buddy add. Author! Author! Slap, Molly and Hooperman share a shortcoming: They’re not funny. All the sitcoms I love—Cosby, Family Ties, Newhart, Cheers, Kate & Allie, Perfect Strangers, Golden Girls—make me laugh. That’s what sitcoms are for. But these three shows seem ashamed of laughter; they substitute pathos for punch lines and think that’s classy. No, that’s snobbery. Sitcoms can be thoughtful, like M*A*S*H, or different, like Garry Shandling, and still make you laugh. But if they try too hard to be artsy, then they’re just laughable.