''7th Heaven,'' ''The Steve Harvey Show,'' and 8 more are premiering this fall

By Ken Tucker
September 13, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

Ten new shows — five each from whippersnapper networks UPN and The WB — tried to get some attention by premiering early, in late summer. UPN’s Monday night features Malcolm & Eddie, starring The Cosby Show‘s Malcolm-Jamal Warner and comedian Eddie Griffin as mismatched roomies trying to move up in the world. It’s no accident that the debut featured an extended riff on the old Redd Foxx show Sanford and Son; like Fred and Lamont Sanford, Malcolm and Eddie bicker and bark at each other. It’s just that their lines aren’t nearly as good.

Did I say good? Goode Behavior is bad. Sherman Hemsley (The Jeffersons, Amen) is a jailbird con man on parole in the house of his son, a college professor (Dream On‘s Dorien Wilson). Wild dad and stuffy son clash, with infinite predictability. An even worse show follows, Sparks, starring Fresh Prince‘s James Avery as the head of a small ”walk-in law firm” staffed by his dunderheaded sons (Miguel A. Nunez Jr. and Terrence Howard). Robin Givens plays a slinky lawyer the dunderheads fight over. Sexist malarkey.

On Tuesday nights, UPN offers Homeboys in Outer Space, an insipid sci-fi spoof featuring the stand-up comedian Flex. All of these UPN sitcoms use African-American slang and cultural references that the other networks would find too inaccessible. At first, hearing a reference to Wu-Tang Clan in a television comedy is interesting. Quickly, though, it becomes obvious that this stuff is there to take the place of good jokes.

Much better than any of the UPN freshmen are The WB’s black ‘coms, The Steve Harvey Show and The Jamie Foxx Show. Two years ago, the enormously likable Harvey was wasted in the bland ABC sitcom Me and the Boys; this one — in which he plays a high school music teacher — is merely a tad better. But Harvey is terrific in conveying the life of a man raised on ’60s soul who’s trying to retain his dignity in the hip-hop ’90s. Foxx, a graduate of In Living Color, pulls a similar one-man rescue mission on his vapid series about a guy striving for a big break in show business. But Foxx, for all his gifts as an impressionist (the man does a great R. Kelly), is a more uneven actor and lacks Harvey’s charm.

The WB’s two sitcoms with white stars, Nick Freno: Licensed Teacher, featuring a repellent hero who talks to his students about things like ”visible panty lines,” and Life With Roger, about a nice guy who invites an obnoxious guy to be his roommate, defy polite consideration.

And dramas? The WB and UPN have one each. 7th Heaven is a small shock: a nicely done family tale, starring Stephen Collins as a minister married to the beguiling Catherine Hicks. They oversee their batch of cute kids with more sensibleness and finesse than anyone on either of those other number-title family shows, Second Noah or Party of Five. The Burning Zone is unhealthy hugger-mugger about deadly viruses and disease-ridden monsters: Outbreak X-Files. Featuring dialogue like ”Alan told me you had one of the finest scientific minds he’d ever experienced,” this one is stiff, pretentious blarney. Malcolm & Eddie: C- Goode Behavior: D Sparks: D Homeboys: D- Steve Harvey: B Jamie Foxx: B- Nick Freno: C- Life With Roger: D 7th Heaven: B+ The Burning Zone: C-