Hank -- TV Review

ABC's "Hank," inspired partly by the current economic downturn, is not so much a comedy about the recession or how one adapts to belt-tightening. It is, instead, a more or less traditional family sitcom that makes only fleeting reference to one family's downward mobility, mostly to establish the premise.

The show's main strength is the admirable comic acting ability of Kelsey Grammer and decent wordsmithing by sitcom veteran Tucker Cawley. But even with those assets, "Hank" comes across as familiar and formulaic -- something you don't mind watching but wouldn't go out of your way to see.

Grammer stars as Hank Pryor, who singlehandedly built a retail sporting-goods empire. For reasons never explained and of no consequence, he lost the confidence of the board and was fired. Now the family is moving to fictional River Bend, Va. (not to be confused with fictional Stoolbend, Va., home of "The Cleveland Show"), where he opened his first store and which also happens to be the hometown of his wife, Tilly (Melinda McGraw).

Hank and Tilly have two children. First, there's teenage Maddie (Jordan Hinson), a typically spoiled, self-absorbed and oblivious teen. Of the move from Park Avenue luxury to small-town Virginia, she asks, "Why does God hate us?" And then there's Henry (Nathan Gamble), a "Star Wars" devotee who eschews most sports.

Hank is the eternal optimist. Recent experience notwithstanding, he believes he cannot fail. He welcomes the chance to start over and the opportunity to spend more time with his family. For her part, Tilly -- who had done nearly all of the child-rearing -- is accepting, if not overjoyed, with the transition. Cawley gives her more than a few punchlines, and McGraw rises to the occasion.

The move puts the Pryors in close proximity to Tilly's brother, Grady Funk (David Koechner), a bumbling contractor and bumpkin unable to conceal his glee at Hank's fading fortunes.

Returning to a familiar pattern, whether it be in "Frasier," "Back to You" or, this time, "Hank," Grammer plays a character who comes back to a place from his past. But this isn't about nostalgia any more than it is about the recession.

In "Hank," the comedy is the all-purpose kind, mostly targeted at relationships and emotions. Not a moment is spent reflecting on how the Pryors will manage financially. That's a mistake. Even a hasty reference to economic consequences would make this sitcom more credible and relatable.

"Hank" might provide a sturdy enough building block for ABC's night of comedy, but there were better choices to kick off the night.

Airdate: 8-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 30 (ABC)
Production: Bonanza Prods. in association with McMonkey, Grammnet Prods., Werner Entertainment and Warner Bros. Television
Cast: Kelsey Grammer, Melinda McGraw, David Koechner, Jordan Hinson, Nathan Gamble
Executive producers: Tom Werner, Tucker Cawley, Kelsey Grammer, Mike Clements
Producer: Maggie Blanc, Peter Chakos
Director: Andrew Weyman
Writer-creator: Tucker Cawley
Director of photography: Donald A. Morgan
Production designer: Cabot McMullen
Editor: Ron Volk
Music: Matter
Set decorator: Ron Olsen
Casting: Nikki Valko, Ken Miller