Ken Tucker
May 31, 1996 AT 04:00 AM EDT

It’s a big TV world, with something for almost anyone, but I’m sure there are shows you regularly flick past, thinking ”You mean that’s still on?” You know what I’m referring to: sitcoms whose comedy evaporated immediately after their pilot episodes; shows that seem so threadbare of quality, it’s amazing they get renewed year after year. For me, three prime stumpers, a trio of lucky ducks, are Coach, Dave’s World, and Wings.

While Craig T. Nelson chose just the right role for himself, Harry Anderson’s portrayal of real-life humor writer Dave Barry on Dave’s World is, first and foremost, a small miracle of miscasting. Anderson, as he proved as a stand-up comic/magician and then the judge on Night Court, specializes in streetwise, laid-back smarm. As Dave, a columnist of suburban humor, he must project a thoroughly engaged smart aleck. So right off the bat, there’s a distracting dissonance in the tone of this sitcom. (Anderson is more understandably at ease in his enjoyable vanity special this week, Harry Anderson: The Tricks of His Trade, in which he returns to his jokey-magic roots. The best thing on the special, however, isn’t him: It’s Jay Johnson, the former Soap star staying true to his roots — as a ventriloquist — and turning in a smart routine with a monkey dummy.)

The humor on Dave’s World was encapsulated in the May 20 episode, which grappled with the notion that Dave’s wife, Beth (DeLane Matthews), thinks their two boys should attend church even though Dave has no interest himself in going. About religion, Dave whines, ”Couldn’t they just pick it up on the street, like everything else?” The show, which just completed its third season, also suffers from an oversize cast (including J.C. Wendel as Dave’s dismal-bimbo assistant), a dreadful theme song (Southside Johnny yowling Billy Joel’s ”You May Be Right”), and the really lucky Shadoe Stevens, hanging in there as Dave’s hairy, horny buddy Kenny (”I went to a New Age church for the single — clothes optional”).
Dave’s World: D
Harry Anderson: The Tricks of His Trade: B

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