Picks and Pans Review: Happy Family

updated 09/15/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/15/2003 01:00AM

NBC (Tuesdays, 8:30 p.m. ET)
Critic's Choice

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John Larroquette and Christine Baranski are polished veterans who know the good and the bad of sitcoms—from Night Court to Payne, from Cybill to Welcome to New York. One thing's sure: Give them some decent material and you have a fair shot at success.

This series gets off to an encouraging start Sept. 9, and the stars' expert timing is a major reason why. Peter Brennan (Larroquette) and wife Annie (Baranski) look forward to having the house to themselves now that 20-year-old Tim (Tyler Francavilla), the youngest and least gifted of their three offspring, is set to graduate from junior college. But Tim's academic progress proves illusory, and he turns out to be the boy toy of the thirty something divorcée next door (Susan Gibney). Meanwhile, the Brennans learn that their supposedly solid son, Todd (Jeff Davis), has a girlfriend in addition to his fiancée. Each unpleasant surprise gives Larroquette a chance to play appalled incredulity to perfection, and Baranski fares almost as well as a mother with formidable skills in manipulation. The sons' entanglements yield more laughs in the second episode, but the Brennans' desperately dateless daughter, Sara (Melanie Paxson), seems to be stuck on one note.BOTTOM LINE: Happy news

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