If you absolutely adore sitcoms in which each line of dialogue and every roll of the eyes is greeted as a raving laugh riot, and if you desperately need to see more of Kelsey Grammer playing a pompous fool now that "Frasier" is gone, and if you passionately need to see more of Patricia Heaton playing an argumentative antagonist now that "Everybody Loves Raymond" is gone, and if you can actually bear yet another comedy set in a local TV newsroom, then Fox's "Back to You" is just for you, my friend.
But "Back to You," which premieres tonight at 8 on Channel 25, is definitely not for me. This comedy is painfully broad, not to mention unimaginative and derivative of every newsroom sitcom from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" to "LateLine" to "NewsRadio" to "Less Than Perfect." Naturally, Grammer and Heaton are surrounded by a crew of zanies, all of whom are caricatures, including the requisite bimbo, Montana, played by Ayda Field. Montana puts on a r-r-r-really out-r-r-r-rageous Latino accent when trying to seduce men in power, which is almost every time she's onscreen.
Grammer plays Chuck Darling, a news anchor who returns to a Pittsburgh station WURG after 10 years trying - and failing - to hit the big time. Heaton is Kelly Carr, who is angry about having to share the screen with Chuck once again. And so they bicker, and they throw verbal darts, and they pick at each other, and they snap at each other, and yes, I am making this sentence redundant to re-create the repetitiveness of the show. The two actors have chemistry, in that they are both well-schooled in the art of sitcom timing, but that still doesn't make the writing any less irritating.
A half hour of barbs is gnawing enough - and we're not talking fresh "Curb Your Enthusiasm"-like barbs so much as cliched insults about aging and wrinkles. But then "Back to You" also veers into some horribly maudlin territory that promises to play out for the rest of the series. That plot twist - Fox has asked that reviewers keep it under wraps - tries to establish Chuck and Kelly as more than just combatants. In the process, the show drips with the sort of "very special" sentimentality that too often feels false and cloying.
Fred Willard is in the cast, as the kooky sexist weatherman, but the most entertaining member of the ensemble is Ty Burrell as the reporter who didn't get Chuck's anchor job. Burrell's Gary receives the dud assignments, all of which humiliate him, and he's good for a laugh or two. In next week's episode, he serves as the test dummy for a stun gun, whose loud punch leaves him speechless and reverberating in pain. I knew how he felt.