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TV Show Review: 'In the House'

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When he was turning out hip-hop hits with regularity a few years ago, L.L. Cool J always seemed like one of the most genial and articulate of rappers. He had both street credibility and pop likability, qualities he transfers successfully to television as the star of IN THE HOUSE (NBC, Mondays, 8:30-9 p.m.). Cool J plays Marion Hill, whose football career as a running back for the Los Angeles Raiders is cut short by a knee injury. Bereft of income, he rents out his posh L.A. digs to Jackie Warren (choreographer/actress Debbie Allen), recently divorced from her husband and the mother of two: 9-year-old Austin (Jeffery Wood) and 15-year-old Tiffany (Maia Campbell). Marion continues to live on the premises, in a room over his garage.

Except for Cool J, In the House is in every way a trite little sitcom. Jackie is one of those wise, tough, but loving mothers who gets into trouble trying to give her children everything they want. In a recent episode, for example, Jackie promised Austin she’d get a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger to appear at his 9th birthday party; when she failed, she made a feeble attempt to dress up like a superhero herself. This sort of thing might have flown as an I Love Lucy premise 40 years ago, but it’s pretty deadly now, especially since Allen, not known for her subtlety, really goes overboard when she tries to be silly.

Only Cool J adds freshness to In the House. He has a big, friendly smile that never seems forced, and he delivers his lines with more expression than any number of old-pro sitcom stars. It’s too bad that In the House, aiming to be an early-prime-time family show, gets mired in a lot of dumb sexual and sexist humor: After a girlfriend accuses him of lying, Marion’s punchline is, ”I’m a man; I’m supposed to lie. You’re a woman; you’re supposed to forgive me and take me back.” Rap music gets blamed for a lot of obnoxious sentiments, but L.L. Cool J never spoke a line more obnoxious than one that sitcom writers dreamed up for him. C