Dalton Ross
February 27, 2004 AT 05:00 AM EST

The King of Queens

TV Show
Current Status
In Season
Kevin James, Leah Remini, Patton Oswalt, Jerry Stiller, Victor Williams

We gave it an A-

I’d just like to say for the record: My bad. Last fall, when CBS moved The King of Queens from its comfortable Monday slot (where it was teamed with ”Yes, Dear” and ”Everybody Loves Raymond”) to Wednesdays at 9 p.m., many critics — including yours truly — insisted it was sitcom suicide. Not only would it be competing against ratings hoggers like ”The West Wing,” ”The Bachelor”/”Bachelorette,” and ”The O.C.” but its lead-in was the grayer, incompatible-as-can-be ”60 Minutes II.” And here’s where the mea culpa comes in: Despite the scheduling setback in its sixth season, ”King” has developed into network TV’s scrappiest situation comedy.

What makes this season so good is that the Heffernans’ luck has been so bad. Let’s see: They got robbed on Thanksgiving, Carrie (Leah Remini) got canned from her job as a legal secretary, and Doug (Kevin James) became the world’s worst Ping-Pong player (trust me, it was a big deal to him). But the Heffernans don’t just fail. First they come tantalizingly close to success ? and then they fail. In the season’s strongest episode, Doug acted as a softball ringer for Carrie’s law firm and was so good a rival firm wooed him with a job offer. Of course, he proceeded to blow out his knee on a home run trot, thereby ending his career as both a softball star and a fake lawyer. Typical, because on ”The King of Queens,” things always end badly. And not in a we learned our lesson, but at least we still have each other way, but in a we are so screwed it’s not even remotely funny way. Which is exactly why it is funny.

”The King of Queens” is not especially hip, doesn’t rely on overhyped ”event” episodes, and — Janeane Garofalo’s recent stint as an ex-girlfriend notwithstanding — rarely trots out big-name guest stars to grab attention. (We’re lookin’ at you, ”Will & Grace.”) Instead it sticks to its Honeymooners-esque mission, following a big-bellied delivery man and his way-too-hot-for-him but equally down-on-her-luck wife trying to make ends meet.

As an on-screen couple, James and Remini have grown so comfortable trading barbs that, if anything, the show sometimes plays to this strength a little too much. The artfully bombastic Jerry Stiller still makes the most of his B stories as Carrie’s dad (the best of which featured him insisting that Doug’s black buddy Deacon accept his money because he mistakenly believed that his ancestors owned slaves — only to demand the cash back later). But talented supporting players Patton Oswalt (as misfit Spence) and Gary Valentine (cousin Danny) continue to be underutilized. And more of neighbor Lou Ferrigno (playing himself) could only be a good thing. Why? Because he’s Lou Ferrigno.

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