Turning the 1989 John Hughes comedy Uncle Buck into a situation comedy makes sense, since the movie was conceived with sitcom simplicity: A slobbo of an uncle cares for his absent brother’s children — two smart-aleck girls and a boy. John Candy in the movie was allowed to be a bit more dissolute than Kevin Meaney is in the TV show (Candy was free to curse and drink). Meaney’s version of the character is softer; while he can still be witheringly sarcastic, he’s basically a nice guy.
Meaney is a stand-up comic by trade, one who used to specialize in the persona of a fussy, nattering boor — he wore little bow ties around his thick neck to symbolize his restrained rage. As Uncle Buck, Meaney has loosened up. He wears a Chicago Cubs baseball cap twisted around backward, and makes peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches while bopping to Jerry Lee Lewis’ ”Great Balls of Fire.”
If Uncle Buck were a truly irresponsible jerk, of course, this show wouldn’t be funny — it would be a portrayal of child abuse with a laugh track. So great care is taken to show that Buck loves those children, protecting them from villains ranging from the malevolent school vice principal (Lu Leonard) to the kids’ grim grandmother (Audrey Meadows, of Honeymooners legend). The show is mainly worth watching for the way Meaney skillfully balances his naughty-but-nice personality. C