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Graham Patrick Martin

Graham Patrick Martin

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What's missing from "The Bill Engvall Show" (TBS, 9 p.m.

Saturdays) is present just about everywhere on television: therapy.

From dramas such as "In Treatment" and "Head Case" to docu-soaps including "The Hills," "Ruby" and "Gotti's Way," reclining on the couch has become almost de rigueur for characters looking for a boost in self-esteem.

It shouldn't be too much to ask for on this show, which began its third season last week.

Engvall plays Bill Pearson, a hapless suburban dad with a day job as a family counselor.

At home, he's moldable clay, subject to the decision-making of his wife, Susan (Nancy Travis), and the whims of his children: Lauren (Jennifer Lawrence), Trent (Graham Patrick Martin) and Bryan (Skyler Gisondo).ADVERTISEMENT Surely then, Bill must be emotionally articulate at the office, where the well being of other families depends on his expertise, no? We rarely find out: The workplace makes only a scant appearance in the first few episodes this season, and even then no analysis took place.

If in every episode Bill sat with a client or clients and imparted wisdom that made their lives better, not only would it make for a strong structure on a show that lacks it but it would also temper the numbing effect of Bill's home life, in which there's almost nothing to recommend him.

He pads around the house in solid-color T-shirts and droopy plaid robes, musing about how all major decisions are made without him.

But he's only playing at desiring a backbone: It's not clear he'd know what to do with one were it to magically appear.

This is particularly disappointing territory for Engvall, who kicked around television sitcoms for several years before establishing a firm identity as a member of the Blue Collar Comedy collective alongside Jeff Foxworthy, Larry the Cable Guy and Ron White.

Engvall was the least abrasive of the crew but was still often uproariously funny.

But where his domestic humor used to be barbed, on this show it's barely even humor.

Just like Bob Saget on the recently canceled "Surviving Suburbia," he's been completely denuded, just another foil.

(At least Brad Garrett, on "Til Death," puts up a fight.) Without Engvall's celebrity, this show wouldn't exist, but it could do just fine without the man himself.

His lifeless sidekick, Paul (Tim Meadows), adds little, and even his children are one note, save the youngest, brainiac Bryan.

In a conversation with Lauren, Bill actually describes the father-daughter relationship as one that's "all about magic and fairy tales, and that knight in shining armor in all your fairy tales was me, and I always wanted it to be that way, because that was the best Dad feeling ever." It would have seemed treacly even on Lifetime or the Disney Channel.

The show's primary development over last season involves more refined hairstyling for Bill and especially Bryan, whose shaggy locks have been tamed into a tighter bowl.

He's also been given a regular rotation of oxford shirts, giving him the air of a young Alex P.


This week, when Lauren tries to convince him his intelligence is withering away, he appears to shrivel in his grown-up clothes.

It's more emotional range than Bill musters in this episode, in which he and Susan quibble over whether they can speak to others about marriage troubles.

At the end, it's determined that the stability of the union depends on it.

Asks Susan, "Do we agree that total communication is not always the best thing?" Replies Bill, "Yes, for a healthy marriage we need to talk behind each other's backs." But to [email protected],0,5697925.story
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