Bruce Davison is up for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his fine, understated work in Longtime Companion, but on TV, he’s doing fine, overstated work on Harry and the Hendersons — a sitcom version of the 1987 film about a family that discovers a Bigfoot monster and decides to keep it around for a pet. Davison has taken on the role of the harried dad played by John Lithgow in the movie. If Davison wins the Oscar and gets lots of cool movie offers, he may be stuck: Harry has what its distributor, MCA TV, calls ”the largest commitment ever to any new network or syndicated program, with an unprecedented three-year, 72-episode run of the series.”
It’s going to be a long three years. Harry is your basic gag-a-second family sitcom supplemented by that hulking creature (Kevin Peter Hall, reprising his movie role). The film was a lackluster performer at the box office but did well on cable and video, where it was discovered by a large audience of children enthralled by the idea of having an unbelievably strong yet sweet-tempered playmate. Accordingly, the sitcom spends most weeks showing us Harry hugging, carrying, and learning about civilization from the kids in this family (Zachary Bostrom and Carol-Ann Plante). Molly Cheek (It’s Garry Shandling’s Show) plays Davison’s wife, and together these hapless parents do little more than look constantly surprised at Harry’s immensity and naïveté. Davison struts through his role with ostentatious charm, waggling his eyebrows occasionally to let us know that he knows how silly all this is. I thought Harry was boring but harmless; my kids and their friends thought the first couple of episodes were ”neat” but haven’t asked to watch it recently, a reasonably sure sign that Harry-mania isn’t sweeping the nation. Maybe Davison could film three years’ worth of quizzical reaction shots in a few months and go off to do more interesting things.