Rich Heldenfels

TV Land, which built an audience with replays of vintage TV comedies, has in more recent years made original shows — but with the tone of classic fare. The network loves to find stars from older shows and put them into three-camera, staged-set trappings which are at considerable remove from the more cinematic comedies of recent years.

Sometimes the approach works well enough. The savvy ensemble on Hot in Cleveland knows how to sell a joke, and the jokes themselves are pretty good. Other times, it can fall flat; Retired at 35 was so unforgettable, I had to look up its name just now. The latest effort from TV Land, Kirstie, falls somewhere between those two extremes, although I doubt I will look beyond the two episodes I have seen.

Premiering at 10 p.m. Dec. 4with back-to-back half-hour episodes, the series stars Kirstie Alley (Cheers, Dancing With the Stars) as Madison Banks, an actress who is successful onstage — but offstage is vain, self-absorbed and lacking friends beyond her assistant Thelma (Rhea Perlman, Alley’s former Cheers co-star) and her driver Frank (Michael Richards, Seinfeld). She also has a son, Arlo (Eric Petersen), whom she gave up for adoption years ago; in the show’s pilot, at the age of 26 he re-enters Madison’s life. She eventually acknowledges him (although she keeps trying to lowball his age to fit with the claims she makes about her own), and brings him into her goofy life.

I have a basic problem with any show starring Alley, I don’t like her. Enjoyable in her Cheers days, she has developed an ever more annoying public persona, and was insufferable during her time on DWTS. For that matter, when Alley made a promotional appearance in a Hot in Cleveland episode, the gathering came across as chilly and awkward.

But when I try to put those feelings aside, Kirstie at least works as an ordinary bit of TV comedy, where bad jokes are rescued by a good pace and an adept cast. (It’s especially nice to watch Perlman’s comedic moves again.) And it has promised an array of guest stars, among them Alley’s friend John Travolta (with whom she worked in three Look Who’s Talking movies), Richards’s Seinfeld mate Jason Alexander and another Cheers alum, George Wendt.

Alley embraces the flaws in her character, although there are the occasional scenes which seem less about putting on a good show than making sure Alley gets enough screen time. (There’s also the nagging question of why the show is called Kirstie when it’s about a character with a different name.) But it’s still not that amusing a show.

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.