Walter and Emily
In an interview a couple of years ago, Cheers writer David Angell ran through his list of TV sitcom cliches: They included living-room sets, cute children, and any character who could be described as ”crusty yet benign.” For his own health, Angell had better avoid Walter and Emily — it’s got a kid, a living room, and so much benign crustiness you’d need a trowel to scrape it off. Brian Keith and Cloris Leachman play the long-wed, long-bickering Walter and Emily Collins, who have moved in with their son (Christopher McDonald, who played Geena Davis’ loutish husband in Thelma & Louise) to help raise their grandson, Zack (Joey Lawrence). Zack’s mother has been been dispatched to the land of absentee sitcom moms (”She lives in Phoenix,” says one character vaguely), so the couple has its hands full.
Walter and Emily comes from the producers of The Golden Girls, which precedes it on Saturday nights, and Empty Nest and Nurses, which follow it, so NBC viewers can now enjoy a solid two-hour block of over-lit houses, squabbling yet essentially warm relationships (a staple of the crusty-yet-benign genre), and bowel jokes. If you’ve seen CBS’ The Royal Family, you know the drill. Grandpa talks about being regular; Grandma brandishes an enema. They fight. She: ”You’re not the man I married!” He: ”You mean you’ve been making the wrong man miserable for 40 years?” At the end, they hug. Right now, Walter and Emily is being kept afloat solely by the buoyant professionalism of Leachman and Keith, two veterans who work well together and attack their roles with unflagging comic vigor. Rewarding their longevity by sentencing them to play foxy oldsters who need more dietary fiber seems cruel indeed. C-