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TV Series Review

In the role of sitcom mom Debra Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond, Patricia Heaton won two Emmys playing a strong, stabilizing force in a chaotic suburban family. Dialogue might have gotten a little salty now and then, but at least the jokes and storylines weren't loaded with sexual remarks and innuendo, which seem to be a staple of her new workplace comedy, Back to You.

This time the target of Heaton's searing glare isn't a childish husband, but a pompous colleague played by Frasier's Kelsey Grammer. Chuck Darling (Grammer) and Kelly Carr (Heaton) are contentious Pittsburgh news anchors thrust back behind the desk a decade after his market-hopping ambition took him to greener pastures. Recently fired in L.A. for an obscenity-laced on-air meltdown (shown with its three barely bleeped f-words, s-word, anatomical slang and crass term for intercourse), Chuck returns to WURG where he gets introduced to lots of new faces. One of them belongs to the 10-year-old daughter he sired during a tequila-induced indiscretion with Kelly just before leaving town.

"It's the funniest script I've read since Everybody Loves Raymond," Heaton said. "The character of Kelly Carr is very different from Debra Barone, so I was looking to explore a different type of life. This woman is a working mom, whereas Debra was a stay-at-home mom. She's very accomplished and ambitious, but she has her own insecurities and faults, and I wanted to see where she goes juggling all these things."

The writing is indeed sharp, but many of those barbs get too prickly, from sexual put-downs to cynical jokes about tragic news stories. Back to You may be patterned after newsroom comedies such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Murphy Brown, but there's no mistaking a moral mindset willing to stoop to the level of Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Filmed using an increasingly rare four-camera format, it seems at least three of the four are hunting for shots of the promiscuous weathergirl's cleavage. Overall, there's a lot of talent on display, making the risqué results all the more disappointing.

Fox Entertainment chairman Peter Liguori has stated that he's angling for a young audience, explaining, "Ultimately, Kelsey and Patty's comedy is hip. … Are characters projecting a young attitude? Is it a little rebellious, a little daring? Is it willing to go way out there for the humor? On Back to You, the answer's yes on every one of those fronts."

We applauded Patricia Heaton when, as a presenter at the 2003 American Music Awards, she was offended enough by "lewd jokes and off-color remarks" that she walked out in protest. Don't be surprised if this sitcom's off-color humor doesn't spark similar indignation among fans who expect better from her.

Episodes Reviewed: Sept. 19, 26, 2007

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Bob Smithouser

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