THE SHOW "Surviving Jack"
WHEN | WHERE Premieres Thursday night at 9:30 on FOX/5
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Frankie Dunlevy (Connor Buckley) has a dad, but what a dad -- a demanding, irascible-yet-loving quote machine who essentially demands that his son must grow up . . . to be just like him. It's the early '90s, and his dad, Jack (Christopher Meloni), has a code that insists upon self-control, and taking responsibility for one's actions, and otherwise doing what he tells you to do. This is hard enough on Frankie, who's just entering high school, harder still when his mom, Joanne (Rachael Harris), decides to go back to law school, leaving him and his sister, Heather (Lili Reinhart), at the mercy of Dad. This coming-of-ager set in L.A. is based on Justin Halpern's memoir, "I Suck at Girls."
MY SAY We know Halpern's dad well -- arguably too well. Through no apparent fault of his own, he inspired an awful CBS sitcom, "$#*! My Dad Says." CBS -- alas, belatedly -- realized a series inspired by a Twitter feed probably was too thin a pretext for a TV comedy, and the ax mercifully fell.
By comparison, "Jack" is veritable Tolstoy, adapted from a real book (not a long one, but a book), complete with real plotlines and characters who do and say amusing stuff on occasion.
"Jack" isn't awful and may even be -- assuming it lasts -- the elusive "That '90s Show," a natural fit at the network, which already has covered the '70s and '80s.
What's wrong here are some of the same elements that have made the 2013-14 network comedy crop one of the weakest in memory -- not enough laughs, not enough of a show that feels like it has something interesting to say (and wants to say it). Meanwhile, buying Meloni in a comic role that requires you to expunge any memory of his famous dramatic ones (Elliot Stabler, "Law & Order: SVU," or Chris Keller of "Oz") is a difficult sell.
Or, depending on your memory, an impossible one.
BOTTOM LINE Good-natured flotsam