Seriously, where's the kid?
Life With Bonnie kicked off its bumpy second season by stripping Bonnie Hunt of a TV daughter -- played handily by Samantha Browne-Walters -- with nary an explanation. (I envision her in a special TV waiting room for misplaced siblings, making awkward conversation with Richie Cunningham's older brother.) It's a perplexing and off-mark move, as Hunt had some sweet moments with the girl, and dropping her did nothing to alleviate the show's crowded house.
The overpopulation -- no sitcom needs nine regulars -- is a major problem for ''Bonnie,'' which revolves around Hunt as Bonnie Malloy, harried wife and mother of (now) two, and host of ''Morning Chicago.'' That gig allows the Second City vet to improv with guest stars, which can yield some great, startling humor -- or be a real sinkhole. The Dec. 5 episode, with Rip Taylor as a gossip guru, is a fine example of the worst of ''Bonnie.'' Taylor's shtick overburdened a show that too often marches to a ba-dum-bum beat, with the cast popping random punchlines like a bad game of whack-a-mole.
May I recommend a culling? Anthony Russell provides a nice bumbling-bear vibe as ''Morning Chicago'''s piano player, but Hunt would be kind to release Chris Barnes and Holly Wortell from their generic wacky friend/coworker gigs. Whatever bus to Bootsville they land on, save room for Marianne Muellerleile's housekeeper-who-doesn't-keep-house-gee-how-zany.
This may sound cranky, but it's only because I'm rooting for ''Bonnie,'' Hunt's third stab at her own prime-time show. Hunt, with her longtime partner Don Lake, has made some hopeful changes of late, particularly with the ''Morning Chicago'' segments. Last year's parade of stars from Robin Williams to Tom Hanks has shifted down to folks like Jack Lalanne and the Smothers Brothers, allowing Hunt to play with -- rather than play second fiddle to -- her guests.
And bless the slightly contrived house fire that left David Alan Grier's uptight producer David Bellows homeless, forcing him to move in with the Malloys. He's made a persnickety foil to Bonnie's low-key boy (Charlie Stewart, who'd be a perfect Bobby in a live-action ''King of the Hill'' movie). Plus more home time means more of Mark Derwin, who, as Bonnie's doctor husband, shares her zingy humor. How pleasant in this world of bickering TV spouses (I'm talking to you, Mr. and Mrs. Barone) to see a husband and wife who really dig each other.
With her lovely effervescence and earthiness, Hunt seems ever more confident. When a scene is really hopping (which happens more often this season), her glee is as engaging as the banter itself. Give the girl more room, and ''Life With Bonnie'' could be peachy.