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TV Series Review

Writer, producer and actress Bonnie Hunt has become famous for her professional versatility and everywoman charm. She has had roles or voiced characters in mass-appeal films such as Beethoven, A Bug’s Life and Monsters Inc. Now she brings her talent and love for family comedy to ABC in the form of Life With Bonnie, a steady sitcom with a flair for improv.

Episodes divide time between Bonnie Molloy’s young family and her role hosting a morning TV talk show in Chicago. On that show within a show, guest stars such as Jonathan Winters and Robin Williams trade witty, unscripted banter with Bonnie as if chatting with Regis Philbin. At home, script writers take over, fleshing out Bonnie’s fictional relationships with husband Mark (a physician) and their three young children.

It’s a sweet, if imperfect series. The improvisations are often superb. The caveats are subdued, with most of them delivered on the set of Bonnie’s TV show. Swearing usually is limited to mild profanity, but one episode included three bleeped vulgarities. Sight gags and verbal jokes don’t dive deep in the muck, though writers have toyed with homosexual themes, gambling, dishonesty, alcoholism and scatological references.

As a rule, half-hour comedies don’t do a good job of portraying nuanced family dynamics. Even series touted as "family friendly" plumb for laughs with backbiting, insults and group fights. But Life With Bonnie has established itself as prime time’s most sensitive sitcom, concentrating on the healthy love and respect siblings and parents should strive for, rather than the ugly confrontations that happen along the way. Bonnie and Mark are romantic, affectionate and gentle with each other’s feelings. Their kids respond positively to this safe environment. For instance, concerned that her mom might be getting the short end of the stick because she does so much work around the house (doing laundry, making lunches, reading bedtime stories, etc.), eldest daughter Samantha entreats Dad to give Mom an allowance. "I clean my room and I get $5 a week," she says, "so Mom should get like, at least a hundred!" That kind of touching, family moment has become a Bonnie basic.

Episodes Reviewed: Nov. 12, 26, Dec. 17, 2002
Jan. 7, 14, Feb. 4, 2003

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Steven Isaac

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