'Kirstie' review: Funny moments but not enough

Maddie (Kirstie Alley) struggles to adapt to her Maddie (Kirstie Alley) struggles to adapt to her new life as a mother, as she misses her first family dinner to sleep with a football star. "Kirstie" airs on TV Land Friday nights at 10 pm. Photo courtesy of TV Land. Photo Credit: TV Land

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REVIEW

THE SHOW "Kirstie"

WHEN|WHERE Wednesday at 10 p.m. on TV Land

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Madison Banks (Kirstie Alley) is a famed Broadway diva who very much enjoys her single diva life, aided (and abetted) by her employees, Frank (Michael Richards) -- her semi-aware and often high chauffeur -- and personal assistant, Thelma (Rhea Perlman). One fateful night, a stranger shows up at the stage door. Arlo (Eric Petersen) tells her he is the son she placed for adoption 27 years earlier. Maddie's world, as the saying goes, is about to be turned upside down.

MY SAY "Kirstie" has to be judged within the context of TV Land, and within that context, "Kirstie" is fine. Anywhere else, this is moldy. But context is what matters here. The actors are seasoned pros who play to character -- or to the characters you fully expect them to play to. Tomorrow night's pilot has some funny lines -- that's right. I said it: Some funny lines. It's all featherweight retro '80s comedy, also exactly as you'd expect.

But then the souffle is deflated, and it's easy to see why. The producers -- led here by another seasoned TV pro, Marco Pennette -- obviously decided they couldn't build a series based on a lead who's churlish, mean-spirited and self-absorbed. (Or maybe that's what one of those dreaded focus groups told them.) So instead, they turned Alley's character into a grasping wannabe mom, who does everything to embrace her once-discarded/ now-cherished son.

But the reversal doesn't work, at least comedically. Alley as churlish can be funny, and clearly Pennette -- who also wrote plenty of daggers for "Desperate Housewives" -- seems to have enjoyed her more that way. But as a nice mom, she's just smothering. Some of the spark returns by the third episode, when Cloris Leachman -- again, always funny, always will be -- arrives to put some life back in this party as Maddie's mom. Then, poof, she's gone. Too bad.

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Go into "Kirstie" with low expectations, and they will be met. Still, there's pleasure to be had in seeing some classic TV stars in front of the camera again.

BOTTOM LINE The pilot has some funny moments, but after that, "Kirstie" starts to flatline.

GRADE C-

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