If there was any lingering doubt whether or not NBC's late, lamented “Must See TV” lineup is dead and gone, I submit to you “Come to Papa.” The show is NBC's latest attempt to fill one of many holes in its bullet-riddled Thursday night schedule. With “Friends” gone, “Scrubs” pulling a double shift on Tuesdays and Thursdays and “The Apprentice” frantically working to come up with a second season, NBC is actually taking the radical step of debuting a new sitcom during the notoriously ratings-deficient summer season. Of course, the move doesn't demonstrate the greatest of confidence in the show. If “Papa” manages to catch on and survive until the fall season, it will be a TV miracle roughly equivalent to the second coming of Gilligan.
Created by standup comedian Tom Papa, “Come to Papa” bears a title that—to quote “The Simpsons”—is “witty at first, but sounds less funny each time you hear it.” In a fit of self-referential unoriginality, Tom Papa plays Tom Papa, a struggling comedy writer who works a day job at a second-string New Jersey newspaper. Like all sitcom schlubs, he's married to a disproportionately attractive woman (Jennifer Aspen) and hangs out with a wacky slacker pal from high school (Robert Patrick Benedict). The only “name” member of the cast is Steve Carrell from “The Daily Show,” who flails wildly, attempting to inject some humor into his nothing role as Tom's annoying boss. Carrell does himself and his fans no favor here, inspiring little confidence that he'll be a good replacement for Ricky Gervais as the annoying boss in the upcoming American remake of BBC hitcom “The Office.”
Papa, at least, has been well cast. He plays a comedy writer who can't get any jobs, which is rather appropriate since—judging from the show anyway—this guy really isn't that funny. Papa apparently used to write Colin Quinn's “Weekend Update” segment on “Saturday Night Live.” For those who don't remember, Quinn was the least funny news anchor “SNL” ever hired. Papa also spent a chunk of his career “warming up” studio audiences before “Seinfeld” tapings. That's a pretty dubious connection to the “Must See TV” empire.
Running jokes on the show's pilot episode include one in which everyone in town—for no discernible reason—thinks Papa is retarded and a real knee-slapper about the absolute impossibility of obtaining black coffee. There's also retired NBA star John Salley showing up occasionally and stiffly pretending to be the neighborhood mailman. I'd say don't quit your day job, John, but you already did.
I would question the mental capacity of NBC execs if they actually thought they could revive their Thursday night lineup with a show as generic and poorly assembled as this one. But I'm pretty sure they dislike it as much as I do. I'm guessing they're all in Aruba this summer watching HBO on their satellite dishes. I suggest you follow their lead.