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CAN ‘KIDS’ CAPTURE THE BIG FAMILY EXPERIENCE?

October 13, 2018

Growing up in a crowded house with four brothers, two sisters, two parents, one grandmother and a single bathroom, I can say we all watched a lot of TV. And we all agreed that the family life depicted on television bore no resemblance to our own.

Created and narrated by Tim Doyle, the new sitcom “The Kids Are Alright” (7:30 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) offers a nostalgic look at an Irish Catholic family with eight kids growing up outside of Los Angeles in the early 1970s.

Writing from a fairly similar (if East Coast) experience, I can say “Kids” gets several things right, but ultimately reduces the experience to sitcom-friendly formulas.

I’m happy to see “Kids” reflect that a house full of boys is bound to be filled with fighting and chaos. Mother Peggy Cleary (Mary McCormack) seems a tad too Elizabeth Montgomery glamorous to have raised eight boys. But her banter does capture the “Who do you think you are?” attitudes of the era. Watching this, I was reminded of how much time my own mother spent at the sewing machine, dishing out tough love along with slightly odd variations on contemporary fashions.

Dad Mike (Michael Cudlitz) works at a defense plant and is given groan-worthy lines (“Phony news!”) about Nixon critics. Conveniently forgotten is the fact that the only way a machinist kept a roof over a family of 10 was with his union membership.

A crowded (pun intended) pilot concerns one son’s decision to leave the seminary (shades of “Saturday Night Fever”) and another (presumably Doyle himself) auditioning for a local musical. Among the show’s many misses is the opportunity to introduce all of the boys, or even mention their names. Anybody from a big family knows their place in the birth (and pecking) order. Briefly introducing them could have provided insight and humor. But “Kids” leans a tad too heavily on “Wonder Years” nostalgia to move beyond the narrator’s first-person singular concerns.

Mike and Peggy frequently tout their Catholic piety, but when Mike catches one of his boys in bed with a young woman, he barely raises an eyebrow. Back in that day, that was a pretty “permissive” attitude toward mortal sin.

One thing “Kids” gets right is Mike’s blue-collar dream. In a short heart-to-heart with his oldest boy, he tells him how his father died a coal miner and how he worked a lathe in a machine shop, but that a college degree would open doors for his sons. Sure, it’s a corny little scene, but a rare incident on today’s television or in contemporary pop culture, where reading, curiosity and academic ambition are depicted as unmanly and “elitist.”

On that note, remember that “Kids” airs right after “The Conners” (7 p.m., ABC, TV-PG), the reconstituted “Roseanne” show, where the characters come to grips with the matriarch’s departure.

-- A life-changing event inspires a middle-aged man (Nathan Fillion) to join the LAPD in the new drama “The Rookie” (9 p.m., ABC, TV-14).

-- “American Experience” (8 p.m., PBS, TV-14, check local listings) presents “The Eugenics Crusade” of the late 19th and early 20th century, which resulted in thousands of forced sterilizations in this country and inspired “master race” policies abroad.

TV-themed DVDs available today include the Acorn presentation of “Anna Karenina,” starring Helen McCrory and Kevin McKidd.

TONIGHT’S OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

-- A sniper strikes on “FBI” (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14).

-- Vietnam flashbacks to the young Jack on “This Is Us” (8 p.m., NBC, TV-14).

-- Junior needs time on the season premiere of “blackish” (8 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).

-- Morning-after misgivings on the season premiere of “Splitting Up Together” (8:30 p.m., ABC, TV-14).

-- Death boards a shrimp boat on “NCIS: New Orleans” (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14).

-- Volunteers face challenges on “New Amsterdam” (9 p.m., NBC, TV-14).

CULT CHOICE

-- Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward star in the 1990 giant worm shocker “Tremors” (6:20 p.m., Starz Encore).

SERIES NOTES

Gibbs gets little privacy on “NCIS” (7 p.m., CBS, TV-PG) ... “The Voice” (7 p.m., NBC, TV-PG) ... Thunderbird, Blink and Eclipse visit Wire on “The Gifted” (7 p.m., Fox, TV-14) ... Cicada (Chris Klein) emerges on “The Flash” (7 p.m., CW, TV-PG).

A face from Cole’s CIA past resurfaces on “Lethal Weapon” (8 p.m., Fox, TV-14) ... Black Jesus blues on “Black Lightning” (8 p.m., CW, TV-14).

LATE NIGHT

Lin-Manuel Miranda and Brooke Baldwin are booked on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” (10:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jimmy Fallon welcomes Kevin Hart and Robert Irwin on “The Tonight Show” (10:34 p.m., NBC, r) ... Eric McCormack, Sean Casey, Kevin Millar, Amanda Litman and Daxx Nielsen visit “Late Night With Seth Meyers” (11:37 p.m., NBC, r) ... Ben Howard appears on “The Late Late Show With James Corden” (11:35 p.m., CBS).

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