We gave it a B-
For an unfunny movie, John Hughes’ 1986 teen comedy, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, has enjoyed remarkable staying power; this fall, it’s the official basis of an NBC spin-off and the unofficial source of this Fox rip-off. Plot point for plot point, Parker Lewis and Ferris Bueller are leading parallel lives: They’re both supercool high school students with shrill sisters, oblivious parents, nerdy, girl-shy best buddies, and venomous, buffoonish principals. But, perhaps because the movie doesn’t offer much to steal in the way of wit, Parker Lewis transcends its source. It’s loose and goofy where Ferris and its television counterpart are smug and smarmy.
Facing the prospect of ”92 billion hours” of lower and higher education, Parker (Corin Nemec) has made himself a small-time racketeer in the world of Santo Domingo High — he’s a cheating aid, an illicit Ticketron outlet, and a cheerful danger to those around him. Parker’s up-front materialism is the show’s least appealing aspect, expressed in lame aphorisms (”Either you work for the system or you make the system work for you”) that sound like Risky Business leftovers.
Happily, greed takes a backseat to Parker’s better qualities: He’s a gadgeteer (one of his better inventions is a device that offers pleasurable electroshock incentives) and a cutup, but not a rich brat (for more on rich brats, see Ferris Bueller). And the show’s writers have wisely surrounded him with a gallery of well-played, amusingly cartoony high school types: bully Larry (Abraham Benrubi), a wall of flesh who sometimes forgets and spells his own name with one r; Principal Musso (Melanie Chartoff, most recently the therapist on Newhart), who keeps a picture of a skull on her wall and shrieks, ”Find me someone to expel!”; and Jerry (Troy Slaten), a jittery ninth-grade lackey who calls Parker ”sir” and makes himself available for drudge work at a moment’s notice.
The first week’s plot, in which Parker and his best friend clash over the affections of a girl, couldn’t be more stale, but Nemec, a talented teen actor who starred in last year’s miniseries I Know My First Name Is Steven, coasts easily over the script’s duller moments. Ironic glosses on high school life are hard to pull off — last season’s prematurely scrapped Marshall Chronicles was a good try. If Parker Lewis can resist the temptation to turn its hero into a nerve-grating smart-ass, it might deserve a chance. B-