The premise of Back to You doesn’t sound promising, teaming Kelsey Grammer as a pompous TV news anchor (immediate thought: Didn’t he already do pompous definitively on Frasier and Cheers?) with Patricia Heaton as his tense, snappish co-anchor (immediate thought: Didn’t she do tense snappishness to death in Everybody Loves Raymond?). But by mixing two elements deftly — the comfy familiarity of the workplace comedy; the invigorating tartness of the acting and writing — you end up with an old-fashioned, studio-audience, irony-free sitcom.
Back to You commences with Grammer’s Chuck Darling returning, after a 10-year absence, to his old Pittsburgh news show after bumbling his shot at the big time in L.A., where he was caught swearing on camera (oh, the instant infamy of YouTube postings). A Ted Baxter with brains, Chuck tries to make the best of his failure by bursting into the newsroom with ego unchecked. When he’s corrected for mispronouncing the surname of a colleague, he says breezily, ”How is that better than what I said?”
As Kelly Carr, Heaton captures the lacquer- hard tenacity that radiates from many real local- market anchors. She conveys how much more difficult it is for women to achieve anchor credibility. So having Chuck’s arrival immediately cut her airtime by at least 50 percent gives her tension wrinkles more wrinkles. It’s a bold performance; rather than being cold, Kelly seems intelligent and fully within her rights to call her returning work partner a ”preening gasbag.” The insult seems correct, not mean.
Co-created by two pros of this format, Christopher Lloyd (Taxi) and Steve Levitan (Just Shoot Me!), Back to You‘s pilot is directed by the pro’s pro, James Burrows (everything from The Mary Tyler Moore Show to Will & Grace). The result zips along with giddy efficiency. Yet two things could eventually drag Back down.
The first: There are too many characters crowded around Grammer and Heaton — a sweaty news director (Josh Gad); a too-hotsy weatherperson (Ayda Field); a correspondent bitter about not getting Chuck’s co-anchor position (Ty Burrell). The only one who’s just right is Fred Willard’s sports reporter Marsh McGinley. As always, Willard’s big, empty grin and cluelessness are charming. ”Well,” he says heartily, exiting a scene, ”I’m off — I still vomit before every show.”
The second involves a Chuck-and-Kelly back- story the producers have asked critics not to reveal. The emphasis this possibly treacly theme is or isn’t given later on may determine the show’s future quality. Me, I’d rather just watch Grammer and Heaton trade barbs in the newsroom. That’s my opinion — back to you, producers.