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TV Land’s ‘Kirstie’ recycles stars and jokes

By Mary McNamara
Los Angeles Times
Premiere The Runaways NY
Evan Agostini - AP
Actress Kirstie Alley

KIRSTIE

10 p.m. Wednesday, TV Land

With a show called “Kirstie,” it would be easy to dwell on TV Land’s “Pet Sematary”-like attempt to resurrect the career of sitcom star Kirstie Alley, not to mention Rhea Perlman and Michael Richards. But here is what matters about the new half-hour comedy: It revolves around a Broadway diva.

A Broadway diva! As in a woman who has made a career starring in hit Broadway plays, a feat that was becoming rare even when Bette Davis played Margo Channing. Who is this Madison “Maddie” Banks that Alley is playing? Patti Lupone? Bernadette Peters? Maybe, but those women also sing, make movies and write children’s books. (Lupone is currently starring in FX’s “American Horror Story: Coven.”)

If the thought of Alley playing a pillar of the American theater isn’t jarring enough, it gets better. Maddie is suddenly reunited with Arlo (Eric Petersen), the son she gave up for adoption. After a few requisite scenes of selfish denial, she invites him to move in with her, rounding out a household that also includes trusty assistant Thelma (Perlman) and wacky driver Frank (Richards).

And why not? Career-driven narcissists have been taught to love by the unexpected appearance of children since “Family Affair.” Except Arlo is 26, which in today’s math is apparently the new 15.

So something old, something new, many things borrowed, the audience, blue. Blue because buried deep within the general TV Land-meets-Kirstie-Alleyness of it all is a show that could have been satiric and smart. It could have been a time-warped clash of cultures in which the nature of big dreams is explored by the generation that moved to the Big City to attain them and the one that relies more on YouTube and “X Factor.”

Instead, “Kirstie,” premiering Wednesday, goes for the worst of both worlds, arraying itself in the worn-thin comfort of predictable humor and sloppy sentiment in the vain hope that it comes off as retro or quaint or something.

It is baffling why creator Marco Pennette bothered making Maddie a Broadway star (except, perhaps, that “actress” has become synonymous with a selfish mess). Despite a career that could be characterized as unsinkable, Alley does not project the presence of a woman who has spent her adult life performing on the stage.

She cannot seem to progress past characters defined by adolescent insecurity and sweet-natured self-centeredness, both of which result in broad jokes about her tendency to overindulge in just about everything.

Perlman and Richards are certainly capable of taking “Kirstie” into the outer reaches of dark humor, but Perlman’s character, Thelma, vacillates between indulgent sarcasm and platitude delivery, while Richards twitches and blurts lines that seem lifted from an earlier, more promising draft.

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