It’s a comedy rule of thumb: If you buy the premise, you’ll buy the joke. That old saw is particularly appropriate for The Closer (CBS, Mondays, 9-9:30 p.m.), the new Tom Selleck sitcom about a guy who wants you to buy things. In case you haven’t watched it — and judging from its not-gangbusters ratings, you may not have — Selleck plays Jack McLaren, a fired ad exec who starts his own company. Jack is legendary for being a ”closer” — i.e., someone who’ll do anything to close a deal, and as we learned from David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, closers are ruthless, soulless people.
Selleck, I am afraid, is the closer as huggy bear; not for a second do you believe this warm, smiley, jovial fellow would do anything unethical to achieve material goals. We are told that Jack used to be like that, but it cost him his marriage and prevented him from spending much time with his now college-age daughter, played by the terrifically lively, wry Hedy Burress (Boston Common). These days, Jack wants to be a closer with morals, an awfully dull premise for what clearly wants to be a snappy sitcom.
And therefore, we don’t buy it, not even with Edward Asner on hand to be more energetically grumpy-funny than he’s been since The Mary Tyler Moore Show (boy, must he be glad his embarrassing Fox ‘com, Ask Harriet, was canceled so fast!). Nor do we buy Penelope Ann Miller, descending from feature films to play a dithering accountant with a plucky airiness that all too quickly becomes a bad, probably inadvertent imitation of Shelley Long. Selleck is a first-rate TV star, as likable as they come. Alas, in The Closer, he’s just a big lug. C-