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Archive for Friday, October 1, 2010

Philly students major in Tony Danza

October 1, 2010

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The new series “Teach: Tony Danza” (9 p.m., A&E) may not save America’s educational system, but you can’t say that it doesn’t follow recent trends. For starters, Danza joins a parade of former stars from the ’70s and ’80s showing up on new shows this fall. Tom Selleck, Jimmy Smits and Florence Henderson are the most notable. But don’t forget Gerald McRaney’s supporting role on “Undercovers” and Dabney Coleman on “Boardwalk Empire.”

In addition to its revenge-of-the-’80s appeal, “Teach” offers yet another wrinkle in the weird evolution of reality television. In the beginning, reality made stars of virtual unknowns. Think Richard Hatch. Then Ozzy Osbourne showed how the genre could revive the careers of the formerly famous. While “The Osbournes” and its many imitators have provided a cheap variation on the sitcom, “Teach” and its star approaches its mission and its documentary format with earnest deliberation.

Apparently, Danza, star of “Taxi” and “Who’s the Boss?”, always wanted to be a teacher but found another calling. Now 60, he wants to see whether he can still give back. He hopes the series, set in a large Philadelphia high school, will inspire other folks his age and younger viewers to give teaching a shot and shine a positive spotlight on urban education. Good intentions, he has a few.

But Danza is still a star, and the series can come off as a vanity project, even when he acknowledges that it might come off as a vanity project. The camera never strays far from Danza. We see him nervously approaching a class of sophomores, offering a long-winded and self-referential pep talk as an assistant football coach and working the stands during a miserable rainy Friday-night football game.

When the camera focuses on his students (several quite dubious of his talent, intelligence and intentions), they are all talking about one thing: Tony Danza. And during his off hours, while kicking back over beers with an old friend, Danza ruminates about the show’s main subject: Tony Danza.

Way back in 1997, I had the opportunity to review the short-lived NBC sitcom “The Tony Danza Show.” I recall being struck by the series’ single-minded focus on its star and how he seemed to appear in and dominate every scene. The overall impression was that of an insecure performer desperate for a comeback. More than a dozen years later, I’m getting the same old feeling.

• Few people seem to enjoy playing the clueless fool more than David Cross, who stars as a temp-turned-boss in the new sitcom “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret” (9 p.m., IFC). He’s joined here by his “Running Wilde” co-star Will Arnett.

Tonight’s other highlights

• Allison has disturbing visions on “Medium” (7 p.m., CBS).

• An online chat ends ominously on “CSI:NY” (8 p.m., CBS).

• Jack and Dan quickly tire of a vain forensics expert on “The Good Guys” (8 p.m., Fox).

• A bickering brood develop super powers on “No Ordinary Family” (8 p.m., ABC).

• A Samaritan shows vigilante tendencies on “Blue Bloods” (9 p.m., CBS).

• A carmaker’s cover-up proves deadly on “Outlaw” (9 p.m., NBC).

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