THE SHOW "Melissa & Joey"

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Melissa Joan Hart plays a harried local officeholder from a political family who's also trying to raise the teen daughter and son left behind by her jailed sister and absconded brother-in-law. She gets unlikely help from one of their other victims, a "homeless commodities trader" (Joey Lawrence) who confronts her at a public meeting - which, in sitcomland, makes him the perfect "manny" to care for the kids.

MY SAY Who's the boss? Both of them, same as ABC's '80s sitcom in which manny Tony Danza helped biz-whiz Judith Light. You'd think Lawrence would be the laugh-getter, after his shriek-inducing "Whoa!" routine from "Blossom," and Hart would be the straight man, after setting up "Sabrina" punch lines for a talking cat.

Yet they're more evenly matched here. Now thirtysomething, Hart (who grew up in Sayville) plays a frantic task juggler, scrambling from work to dating ("public servant by day, hottie by night") to her new aunt-in-charge teen-raising gig. Shaved-head hottie Lawrence is actually more parental, except for that part about living in his car. He's the one who gets the pilot's moralizing scene when errant teens need adult boundaries drawn.

And they do need that, because "Melissa & Joey" launches as a relentlessly traditional sitcom, from the overwrought laugh track to the Very Special Lesson learned by the end. Not that this show can't be modern, too. Characters do and say outrageous things familiar only to sitcomland.

THE BOTTOM LINE Let's reserve final judgment until future episodes. Setup pilots tend to be more hyperactive than subsequent stories. Hart and Lawrence have both exhibited comfy screen presences and old-pro comic timing across decades on the tube individually, as well as together in ABC Family's 2009 TV movie hit "My Fake Fiance." The "Melissa & Joey" pilot is no great shakes. But Melissa and Joey could be.


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