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Pilot Inspektor: An Advance Review of FOX's "Sons of Tucson"

I really wanted to like FOX's comedy series Sons of Tucson.

After all, I loved the pilot script for Sons of Tucson, written by Tommy Dewey and Greg Bratman, which I found to be really witty and fun and had the same sort of enthusiasm and madcap action as the early episodes of FOX's own Malcolm in the Middle.

For those of you not in the know, Sons of Tucson, which will launch on FOX in midseason, is about sadsack hustler Ron Buffkin (Reaper's Tyler Labine), who works at a local sporting goods store (and I use the term "works" extremely loosely) and lives out of his car. In the course of a day filled with his usual small-time grifts and general shrugging off of both determination and honesty, he comes across Robby (How I Met Your Mother's Davis Cleveland), Gary (Doubt's Frank Dolce), and Brandon (Entourage's Troy Gentile). The Gunderson boys have turned up in Tucson after their banker father was imprisoned for stock fraud and given a sentence of twenty years. Rather than end up in foster care, they've opted to move into one of his safe houses and, flush with cash, trick the authorities into thinking that they have parental supervision.

Which is where Ron comes in. The boys--short fuse Robby, street-smart Gary, and thick-as-two-short-planks Brandon--want Ron to pose as their father in order to enroll them in the local school. Ron meanwhile needs some kids to pose as his children in order to convince his elderly grandmother that some valuable military figurines would be in good hands... so he can sell them off and use the proceeds to get a menacing money-lender off his back.

So what went wrong? For one, the completed pilot diverged strongly from the script draft that I read, opting for middle-of-the-road obvious physical humor rather than the droll wittiness that was inherent in the original script. A subplot about a loan shark (Jake Busey) whom Ron owes money to--and who keeps him and the boys hostage at Ron's grandmother's house--was so over the top and unfunny (and went on for so long) that it nearly hijacked the entire episode.

Additionally, I couldn't shake the feeling that instead of Ron being some sort of hustler mastermind, the people around him were just plain stupid, a situation that gets really old, really fast. A sob story about the boys' mother drowning during Hurricane Katrina seems not only in poor taste but also doesn't make any sense whatsoever. (Which could be the point, but really this shtick will turn sour quickly.) Given that Katrina happened years ago, how is this really an excuse as to why the kids don't have any school transcripts or records?

Likewise, Ron meets hyperactive troublemaker Robby's hot teacher Maggie Morales (Saints and Sinners' Natalie Martinez) at the sporting goods store early on in the episode and spins a web of deceit where he tells customers that his brother's family was hacked to bits in a freak chainsaw accident in the Pacific Northwest and he has to jump on a plane. Maggie recognizes him at the private school later but seems to have amnesia about Ron's whole cock-and-bull story about his family. Nor does she wonder how a man with an ill-fitting suit and a job at a sporting goods store is affording to sent three kids to private school without tuition assistance.

It would be one thing if Ron were so quick-witted and charismatic that his lies simply slid off of the minds of his con victims but, as I said earlier, the result just makes the people around him--whether it's his grandmother, Maggie, or the school principal--just seem really naive, gullible, or just plain stupid. And that's a problem. Yes, Ron is a class-A loser but I was hoping that he'd also come across as an unfocused criminal genius who's not rich because he hasn't applied his grifting skills appropriately.

Ultimately, Sons of Tucson tries so hard to be clever and quirky that it fails to be winsome. The series should aim for sly smarts rather than cartoonish absurdity. If the writers could learn anything from Labine's Ron, it's that they shouldn't have to push the con quite so hard.

Sons of Tucson will debut in midseason on FOX.


Liza77 said…
Good idea but the execution sounds pretty lame. And it seems like Ron Buffkin is trying desperately to channel Jack Black.
Kelley said…
I thought it showed potential and I will definitely give it another shot. Especially after the re-casting of two of the main kids. Tyler Labine is like Jack Black: when he dials it back he is much funnier. He was decent though and I do love the idea of seeing him grow into fatherhood.

I also love the idea of Reese from "Malcolm..." as an exec producer and I will give it at least three eps on the promise of that.

Have you seen the second pilot?
Adam said…
And so the roster of losing Fox sitcoms adds one more to its dubious rolls.

Dear god, can we stop having children on TV utter the kinds of pithy, savvy, smart-ass one-liners that issue forth exclusively from adults in the real world - and then only very seldom?

This trend has infected sitcoms since Danielle Brisbois brought down the All in the Family edifice in the 1970s. Why shows like Two and a Half Men are so popular eludes me entirely - I've only seen the commercials, and that's plenty: Set-up line, set-up line, WHAMMO: Kid utters *HILARIOUS* smart-ass one-liner.

When Fox hits a home run, it's out of the park; but when it misses, it does so by a mile. Remember Oliver Bean? Painful. The War at Home? Agony. The Pitts? Appropriate titled.

When it's not putting adult lines in the mouths of kids, Sons of Tucson tries for the wackiness that made the first couple of years of Malcom good (that and the Cranston/Kaczmarek comic chemistry). It misses by a mile. Pratfalls get old. Fast.

Please, Fox: No more too-clever-by-half children, ok? No more idiotic protagonists that live only in the minds of 25-year old screenwriters' fantasies, OK?

I'm begging.

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