The Marshall Chronicles crosses The Wonder Years with Burns and Allen but in this case, the Allen is Woody, not Gracie. It's a sitcom about the coming-of-age of a sensitive young fellow (Joshua Rifkind), a Woody-ish nebbish with big, sad eyes who often addresses the camera directly, the way George Burns used to do.
At its best, The Marshall Chronicles transcends its influences; at its weakest, it succumbs to them. There's a certain tone of gee-it's-tough- being- a-teen that's straight out of The Wonder Years, but Chronicles is too smart to be a rip-off. Unlike Kevin in The Wonder Years, Marshall is no wistful naif; he's a bright young man living in a world gone ever-so-subtly crazy.
Marshall goes to his English class, for example, and the teacher dramatically reads a few lines from the day's poetry lesson; as she enunciates solemnly, you begin to realize she's reading the first verse of Warren Zevon's song ''Werewolves of London.'' It's a throwaway joke no one comes out and actually evokes Zevon and all the funnier for being so casual.
You know The Marshall Chronicles is hip because it uses a Randy Newman song for its theme; you know it's rooted in traditional sitcom form because it's verseen by Richard Rosenstock, who worked on Mork & Mindy and Laverne & Shirley (please note: second Laverne & Shirley reference in this week's column -weird, huh?). It's a show bold enough to make very clear that Marshall is Jewish (such ethnic identifications are still surprisingly rare in sitcom- land) yet conser- vative enough to include a hoody character all-too- wearyingly modeled after the Fonz (please note: second Fonzie oh, never mind).
Joshua Rifkind is wonderfully deadpan and low-key, but after while his plaintive speeches to us TV-watchers become annoyingly cute. And The Marshall Chronicles is too promising a show to settle for cute. B