Remember when Fox was ''the upstart network,'' the maverick kid that was going to be so much more daring and wild and innovative than the Big Three? Ah, those were the days. Now Fox is busy obliterating talent with banal conformity just like ABC, CBS, and NBC, and here's proof: Roc is a standard little sitcom that manages to rein in the best instincts of its solid actors.
Roc stars Charles S. Dutton, a stage veteran whose performance in August Wilson's play The Piano Lesson got him a Tony award nomination in 1990. Dutton plays Roc, a-well, let the Fox press release tell you: ''a hardworking garbage collector striving for the American Dream.'' Of course, in sitcoms, all working-class people are required to dream the American Dream, which is, each week for half an hour, systematically denied them.
Dutton's Piano Lesson costars, Rocky Carroll and Carl Gordon, play Roc's brother and father, respectively, and Ella Joyce, cast as Roc's wife, was in another Wilson play, Two Trains Running. The best thing about this sitcom is that its cast is an instant ensemble they immediately communicate a sense of ease and familiarity with each other's comic rhythms.
Roc was created by Stan Daniels, one of the folks who gave us Taxi, and the series' pilot was directed by James Burrows, a cocreator of Cheers, so you just know that this show will probably never get any better than its first episode. This makes Roc's mediocrity all the more depressing, what with its condescending jokes about Roc's yearning for a ''semidetached house'' and his habit of furnishing his present home with items he picks out of the garbage he collects.
The only semi-original twist in Roc is the character of Roc's father, Andrew. He's a black version of Archie Bunker, a grouchy racist who won't let Roc watch The Simpsons because, he says, black people should watch Cosby. In the premiere, Andrew straightens the portrait of Malcolm X that he's hung in the living room and not-so-amusingly inveighs about the perfidy of whites as the studio audience cracks up. In Roc, reverse racism is intended to be a real hoot. C