Poor writing sinks new ABC sitcoms
Two new sitcoms premiering this week are actually brazen rip-offs of shows which originated across the Atlantic in the homeland of Auntie Beeb, officially known as BBC.
The origins of Condo (ABC, Thursday, 8-8:30 p.m.m) and Amanda's (ABC, Thursday , 8:30-9 p.m.m), being brought in at midseason to replace the faltering ''Greatest American Hero,'' can easily be traced to the original British series, ''Till Death Us Do Part'' and ''Fawlty Towers.''
The relationship between British and American TV is complex - while intellectual electronic think-tankers deride American sitcoms, the supposedly more-literate British public hails ''Dallas.'' And while NBC's ''Fame'' is largely ignored by mass audiences here, it becomes one of England's most popular shows. ''Fawlty Towers,'' an enormous cult success in England, has made it to America for regional airing only, mostly on PBS stations, where it has attracted a limited audience.
One of American series television's all-time greatest successes has been ''All in the Family,'' based upon the British television hit, ''Till Death Us Do Part.'' Now, ''Condo,'' takes the same formula, switches it to the West Coast . . . and hopes nobody will notice the ''coincidental'' similarity.
Well, I did. Instead of a lower-class home in Queens, New York, ''Condo'' focuses on a condominium in California. Instead of blue-collar bigot Archie Bunker, there is white-collar bigot James Kirkridge, played by McLean Stevenson. There are the next-door Chicano neighbors, a running tirade of mutual insults, and racist gags which are meant to be shockingly amusing. When Stevenson mistakes his neighbor for the gardener because he is carrying a plant, the Chicano neighbor responds with ''Just because you're wearing those loud pants, I didn't mistake you for Arnold Palmer.''
Unfortunately, ''Condo'' doesn't quite live up to its source material. Even if the producers had been bold enough to call it ''All in the Condo,'' it still wouldn't make the grade without the superlative writing which was the hallmark of ''All in the Family'' and which simply isn't there in ''Condo.'' A stolen concept alone - no matter how good it has proven in the past - just isn't enough. Even when it's augmented by a laugh track.
The same holds true for ''Amanda's,'' which stars the inimitable Bea Arthur. As in the case of ''Fawlty Towers,'' the action revolves about a small hotel, in this case on the California coast rather than southern England. The main set, the lobby of the hotel, is almost an exact duplicate of the ''Fawlty Towers'' set. But that's about as far as the similarity goes.
Without good writing to help her along, Miss Arthur must depend upon outrageous double takes, pantomime bits, and verbal exaggeration. Sometimes the outrageous mugging works, but in most cases the concept is much funnier than either the lines or the execution of the lines. For instance, the idea of Amanda's Eastern daughter-in-law sending to Boston for all her clothes is funny, especially to replanted Californians. But somehow it doesn't play funny. Could be the director - John Rich directed both of these premiere shows - but it is apparent that what is most lacking is some spark of brilliance in the scripts.
Both ''Condo'' and ''Amanda's'' depend almost completely upon insult humor. But such material, to be successful, needs to have sensitivity as well as crassness. Both shows lack the leavening touch of humanity.