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TV Series Review

At first glance, The Bill Engvall Show (on TBS) might seem about as family friendly as cable gets. The sitcom stars stand-up comic Engvall as Denver-based family counselor Bill Pearson who, with his wife, struggles to raise three wacky children. They eat dinner together and even say, um, grace.

"Good bread, good meat, good god let's eat," says teen slacker Trent.

Dissatisfied with that attempt, Bill throws the honors to Trent's brainy little brother, Bryan, who prays, "Dear God—assuming You really exist—please don't let our vegetables be genetically altered." Strike two.

Finally, lovely stay-at-home mom Susan (Nancy Travis) says a simple prayer and punctuates it with an exasperated "Amen."

The scene is a window into the soul of Engvall—a show that sees itself as healthy family fun, but often gets it wrong in favor of an easy joke. Beyond the flip mealtime blessing, Susan pushes Bill to talk to Trent about condom use. He does so, using various vegetables—carrots, cucumbers, string beans—as visual aids. Elsewhere, Bill's buddies invite him to visit strip clubs (he declines), and Trent claims to be holding onto a Playboy magazine for a friend (Dad dismisses it as no big deal).

Bill and Susan's relationship also generates heat. When she confesses that she slept with singer Chris Isaak in college, Bill retorts that he slept with Julia Roberts. No, make that Julie Roberts, a makeup artist for a morning show in Amarillo. In another episode, the two decide to argue naked. The camera watches from behind as Susan slips off her bra; it also catches too much of Bill's waist. Then the couple slyly refer to Bill's erection.

Engvall has its good moments, too. Members of this family really care about one another. At one point they vote to forego a trip to Hawaii to fund a critical operation for the family dog. Elsewhere, after feeling taken for granted around the house, Susan starts a home business that takes off. The clan suddenly appreciates all she's been doing for them, and when offered the chance to open a chain of retail outlets, Susan puts her family first.

"I kinda took it as a throwback to the old shows," Engvall told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, referring specifically to I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show. "I don't want the dysfunctional, finger-wagging, overbearing wife and the Bundy kids. There are millions of families in this country who have completely normal lives, and stuff happens on a day-to-day basis that's just very funny. You don't have to have that big issue or the wife calling the husband an idiot every other word."

Sounds great, but Engvall is too inconsistent to be in a class with those classics. If Desi Arnaz had excused little Ricky's porn stash, someone would have had some 'splaining to do.

Episodes Reviewed: July 17, 24, 31, Aug. 7, 14, 21, 2007

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Paul Asay

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