Ken Tucker rips the network's ''Mind of the Married Man'' and gives props to Rob Petrie and other cool TV husbands
Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, ...
Credit: The Dick Van Dyke Show: CBS TV/The Kobal Collection

Here’s HBO’s new sex disaster — and its antidote

On Tuesday at 10:30 p.m., HBO will premiere a fetidly unfunny little sitcom called ”The Mind of the Married Man,” a real eye-averter. Hoping for a male version of its big hit ”Sex and the City,” HBO has instead finally located a group of men more unappealling than Robert Wuhl in ”Arli$$.” Less created than secreted by writer-actor Mike Binder, ”Mind of the Married Man” stars Binder as a Chicago newspaper columnist married to a gorgeous, intelligent woman (Sonya Walger) who lusts after lesser, crasser women. He is egged on in this pursuit by a cheesy adulterer who’s one of his closest friends (Jake Weber), and these pursuits are envied by another friend (Taylor Nichols), whose marriage seems singularly joyless.

In this show, all that matters to men is sex of a particular kind: illicit and ”dirty,” performed with women who are both wanton and utterly compliant. It is the sex of pornography, without the courage of actually being depicted as such. Watching a couple of episodes of this slimy muck, it occurred to me that various aspects of the ”mind of the married man” had been captured much better in other TV shows. For instance:

Jackie Gleason’s Ralph Kramden in ”The Honeymooners” knew that marriage to Alice was a fight that must be fought by equals without any blows actually thrown (thus his brandished fist, and hollow bellow of ”To the moon, Alice!”).

Dick Van Dyke’s Rob Petrie on ”The Dick Van Dyke Show” was a clever gag writer but a cheerfully dim-bulb husband (i.e., a typical married man of his era — see either Darren on ”Bewitched”) who at least had the good sense to know he’d done the marriage thing real good. Rob knew that you could bear a tough job (in his case, writing jokes for a dictatorial, humorless boss) as long as you had a curvy babe in pedal pushers (Mary Tyler Moore) waiting for you in your nice suburban abode: professional sublimation in exchange for emotional release at home.

Ken Olin’s Michael Steadman in ”thirtysomething” knew that his neurotic, self-conscious personality could be completed only by a woman who was his intellectual — and neurotic — match (Mel Harris), even if that meant endless talking about marital division of labor in a much-too-dark Phildelphia house.

John Goodman’s Dan Connor in ”Roseanne,” who knew that going toe-to-toe with a woman who was just as tough and a little bit more intelligent than he was, and sticking together through tough times, could be the deepest, not to say sexiest, engagement with another human imaginable.

These TV guys, and others, know that the mind of the married man need not be a swamp.

What married men on television do you admire?