Picks and Pans Review: 8 Simple Rules

updated 02/02/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/02/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

ABC (Tuesdays, 8 p.m. ET)

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John Ritter's death last September left a huge hole at the center of this sitcom. ABC chose to prop it up rather than shut it down, a decision that's looking increasingly unfortunate.

A November episode began with the news that Ritter's character, Paul Hennessy, had collapsed and died while grocery shopping. That a beloved father of three could be snatched away so suddenly was a sobering thought, and the laugh track respectfully kept silent. James Garner and Suzanne Pleshette appeared as the separated parents of Paul's widow, Cate (Katey Sagal), and Garner has gone on to display his usual solid professionalism in the regular role of the household's curmudgeonly grandpa.

But lately Cate has been invoking Paul's death to justify anything the writers dream up. Bridget (Kaley Cuoco), the daughter with more beauty than brains, was unaccountably chosen as the lead in a school production of The Diary of Anne Frank. Cate advised Bridget to draw on her own family's sadness to play the part, and the miscast airhead wound up earning a tearful "Bravo" from a Holocaust survivor in the audience. Now, that's pushing it.

The latest addition to the cast is David Spade doing his smarmy shtick as Cate's long-lost nephew. What moves the Hennessys to take in this creep? "If there's anything we've learned this year," says Cate, "it's the importance of family." Give us a break, huh?

COMEDY

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