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Sitcom powerhouses trade jabs, unite forces on ‘Back to You’

Chris Hine | Thursday, September 27, 2007

When two sitcom superstars – Patricia Heaton (“Everybody Loves Raymond”) and Kelsey Grammer (“Cheers,” “Frasier”) – star in a new sitcom, expectations are high. Unfortunately, the writing and supporting cast of “Back to You” (Wednesdays, 8 p.m., FOX) fails to rise to the talent level of its two stars.

Grammer plays Chuck Darling, a womanizing anchorman whose career began in Pittsburgh and led him to Los Angeles, where he was fired after an on-air outburst of his became a hit on YouTube. Darling returns to Pittsburgh and reunites with the feisty Kelly Carr (Heaton), his former co-host, to anchor the evening news at WURG 9.

Ryan Church (Josh Gad), a stressed, overweight and profusely sweaty young man runs the newsroom filled with stereotypical, one-dimensional characters. There’s the office vixen, weathergirl Montana Diaz Herrera (Ayda Field), the pitiable loser, Gary Crezyzewski (Ty Burrell) and the crazy sports guy, Marsh McGinley (the always hysterical Fred Willard of “Anchorman” and “Best In Show”). Aside from Willard, the supporting cast adds absolutely nothing to the bland and trite material the writers give it.

But “Back to You” finds its heart in five-time Emmy winner Grammer and two-time Emmy winner Heaton. The pair have undeniable chemistry. The funniest and best parts of the show’s first two episodes were the times Grammer and Heaton were on camera alone together, infusing their own comedic styles into their characters’ prickly interaction.

But there’s more to “Back to You” than just newsroom comedy.

Darling’s return has more in store for him than he thinks. Before he left, Darling and Carr had a drunken one-night stand. Nine months later, Carr had Darling’s child and tried to phone Darling to tell him the news, but he refused to answer her call. The pilot episode takes a turn to the dramatic when Darling finds out that Carr’s child is actually his, but Carr refuses to let Darling have a place in her daughter’s life.

Right now, “Back to You” is rigged with problems. It devotes too much time trying to make the newsroom funny and not enough time dealing with the urgent problem that exists between Carr and Darling. Maybe it should focus on the latter issue.

Grammer, playing a character far-removed from Frasier Crane, still manages to make the most predictable farce funny with his facial reactions and tone of voice. Heaton played the unappreciated Debra to perfection on “Raymond,” and here she plays the independent Carr with the same voracity and energy. Even in the heavy storyline involving Carr and Darling’s daughter, Heaton and Grammer bring laughs.

“Back to You” is nowhere near the quality of “Frasier,” “Raymond” or other newsroom comedies such as “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan, the co-creators of “Back to You,” who worked with Grammer on “Frasier,” forgot one of the main lessons of “Moore,” “Frasier,” and “Raymond” – it takes fully-developed, well-cast supporting characters and well-written scripts to make a great show. “Back to You” has none of these elements, but Grammer and Heaton make it watchable.

The writers of “Back to You” may be mailing it in, but its stars certainly are not.