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TV Series Review

"No family members were harmed in the making of this sitcom." That's the tongue-in-cheek tag displayed after the credits have rolled for ABC's comedy, Crumbs. Unfortunately, the disclaimer doesn't apply to family members watching this crass, disposable show.

A poor man's Arrested Development, Crumbs capitalizes on family dysfunction gone overboard. Mom Suzanne (Jane Curtin) is fresh out of a psychiatric hospital after trying to drive over her husband of 33 years (William Devane), who ran off with a younger woman and got her pregnant. Suzanne's mental breakdown causes the show's main character, son Mitch (Fred Savage), to forsake his sputtering Hollywood screenwriting career, return to their Connecticut hometown and manage the family's restaurant—all while keeping his homosexuality under wraps. Despite the prodigal's good intentions, his move simply agitates a long-standing rivalry with Jody, the older brother who stayed behind to run the Crumb business. Add to that combustible mix the pent-up emotions everyone still carries regarding the drowning death of the youngest son.

None of this sounds very funny ... and it isn't. Yet Crumbs writer/producer Marco Pennette intentionally jokes his way through this semi-autobiographical dark comedy. "Writing the show was cheaper than therapy," he says. "We had a lot of tragedy in [our] house. But I still look back on my childhood and remember laughing a lot." Pennette, who spearheaded such shows as What I Like About You and Caroline in the City, already tried to tell his personal story earlier this season in NBC's short-lived dramedy Inconceivable. This go-round he's banking that tragic + crazy = big ratings ... or at least a roaring laugh track.

Most of the cued response, however, is sitcom-standard raunch. Fraternal one-upmanship ends with the womanizing Jody declaring, "I just nailed a chick in the freezer. I win." Mitch says his sibling "isn't good at handling things that aren't breasts." And Mom even tells him, "There's nothing wrong with your brother getting a lot of tail." Other jokes focus on private parts, erections, sexual positions, incest and, as expected, homosexuality.

In the midst of this crude assault (brought down further by mild language and alcohol references), Crumbs frequently comes to a screeching halt with reminders of its depressing foundation. In virtually every episode, these certifiable caricatures rehash their turbulent journey, just in case viewers happened to miss it the first time around. Even hearing it once is once too often.

Episodes Reviewed: Jan. 12, 19, 26, 2006


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