One of television’s choicest ironies is that it can compel entire families to sit still in front of the set, watching other families being active and adventurous. Thus, two new series this week: In the byrds of paradise (ABC, March 3, 8-9 p.m.), thirtysomething’s Timothy Busfield is a single dad who gets a new job and drags his three kids away from snowy New Haven, Conn., to tropical Hawaii. And in the road home (CBS, March 5, 9-10 p.m.), Karen Allen (Raiders of the Lost Ark) hauls her husband (Terence Knox) and four kids down to North Carolina for a two-week visit with her folks, and they end up staying for good. Both of these shows will gladden the hearts of real estate agents everywhere. They also offer distinctly conservative variations on the great theme of American literature: Your life’s at a dead end? Light out, in Huck Finn’s phrase, for the territory. Move-somewhere, anywhere-just make sure to take the kids along, too. In the case of Byrds of Paradise, Busfield’s Sam Byrd is a recent widower still depressed over the death of his wife. A professor teaching graduate-level philosophy at Yale (this profession alone will probably cost Byrds 10 Nielsen points), our thoughtful brooder jumps at the chance to become headmaster at a small, private Hawaiian college, the Palmer School; Sam even uses the phrase ”rebuild our lives.” His 16-, 15-, and 11-year-old kids aren’t thrilled with this disruption. ”I hate you and don’t want to live with you anymore,” says middle child Franny (Jennifer Love Hewitt) with admirable straight-forwardness. They wing off to Hawaii anyway, there to encounter the volcanoes, breadfruit, and culture shock that will provide Byrds of Paradise with its mannerly drama. A Steven Bochco production created by two veterans of Civil Wars, Charles H. Eglee and Channing Gibson, Byrds is at once charming and predictable. Busfield’s character is a more confident, decent fellow than his thirtysomething Elliot Weston was, and that’s not necessarily a good thing: When Busfield plays nice, his natural glow dims somewhat. The kids’ parts are better written-three prickly yet decent types. The Byrds’ encounters with local inhabitants and native Hawaiian culture are, on the basis of the two episodes I’ve seen, all too similar to those seen on last season’s flop quality drama Going to Extremes. This WASPs-humbled-in-the-presence-of-ethnic- eccentrics ploy is already pretty tired. Still, there’s a promising moment in the debut episode when one of the people Busfield interviews for a housekeeping job turns out to be played by singer Arlo Guthrie, doing a very nice if no-stretch turn as an aging hippie. Eglee and Gibson have promised we’re going to see more of Guthrie’s character, and whatever liveliness he can bring to this laid-back affair will be welcome. Like Byrds, The Road Home reeks of smart people behind the cameras-in this case, executive producers Bruce Paltrow and John Tinker, guys who’ve given us good TV ranging from The White Shadow to St. Elsewhere. There are smart actors here, too-the exemplary stage performer Frances Sternhagen and Elsewhere’s Ed Flanders portray Karen Allen’s parents. (The most distractingly odd thing about Road is Allen’s voice: With its Southern honey dip and unusually rough timbre, it sounds like she’s doing an imitation of Blythe Danner, who happens to be Paltrow’s wife.) But all this talent has been placed in the service of paeans to The South and The Family, complete with lines like, ”The people have music in their souls.” Knox’s Jack Matson, like Sam Byrd, is an academic type-well, a high school history teacher-who’s ready for a change. In the premier episode of Road, Jack agrees to take a sharp career turn and help his aging father-in-law run a failing shrimp-boat business. Jack murmurs, ”Maybe there’s change in the air”- but that may just be the smell of rotting shellfish, Jack. Road makes the pointed comment that kids’ lives are better without ”TV and video games”-as if shrimpers don’t have electricity and cable-and at the end of the show, everyone gets in touch with nature by dancing in the pouring rain. Earnest but all wet, The Road Home makes you glad there are still television families like the Simpsons. The Byrds of Paradise: B- The Road Home: C
Genre: Drama, Romance, Comedy; Starring: Karen Allen, Timothy Busfield, Honglei Sun, Ziyi Zhang, Zhao Yuelin, Zheng Hao; Director: Zhang Yimou; Author: Shi Bao; Producer (group): Columbia Pictures, Guangxi Film Studios; Runtime (in minutes): 100; MPAA Rating: G; Distributor: Sony Pictures Entertainment
Posted January 17 2015 — 1:49 AM EST
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