Showtime (Thursdays, 10 p.m. ET)
And the message in pay cable’s first weekly sitcom: Gay is okay. It’s about one brother, Robert (Lou Grant) Walden, who is a former football player turned restaurant owner; another, Brandon Maggart, who is a dumb lug; and another, Paul Regina, who comes out of the closet. The premiere is a bit preposterous: Regina is at the altar, about to be married, when he tells Walden that he can’t go through with it because he’s gay. “You could come up with a better excuse,” says Walden. “That doesn’t run in our family,” moans Maggart. “We play sports!” The brothers at first refuse to believe it (and we are left to imagine the deserted bride’s surprise). But the family comes to deal with its eclectic preferences, and Regina introduces his brothers to his buddies. Philip Charles (Dog Day Afternoon) MacKensie is Donald, his very fey friend—Regina says Donald walks “like the president of the Bette Midler fan club,” and Walden says he “walks with a lisp.” He flits a lot and thus flirts with becoming the gay equivalent of an ethnic joke. But he has the best lines (on coming out of the closet: “Hallmark doesn’t even make a card for this”). And with humor and affection for his character, MacKensie manages to play it safe. If the show does nothing but show off how liberal it is—”Look at us, the first gay sitcom! We’re on cable!”—then it will fail. Kate & Allie is a good show for women not because it is a women’s show, but because it is simply a good show. Brothers must strive to do the same. It’s trying. Of the early episodes, two have gay themes: the premiere and another about a gay bruiser of a football player who has a crush on straight Walden. The other is about Walden’s affair with a married woman. The humor is often too broad (“This gay stuff,” says Walden, “it’s Greek to me”). But there is some good writing; Brothers, after all, was created by David Lloyd, Ed Weinberger and Stan Daniels of Cheers, Taxi and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. They are to be congratulated for not taking too much license with a cable sitcom: Just because they can show flesh and use four-letter words doesn’t mean they have to, and they don’t. Brothers is a nice, friendly and often entertaining show. But only time will tell whether its talented creators will lend enough of their imaginations to make it last.