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Happily Divorced leaves TV Land stuck in clunky retro gear

Fran Drescher and co-stars Rita Moreno, Robert Walden. TV Land photo

Premiering: Wednesday, June 15th at 9:30 p.m. (central) on TV Land
Starring: Fran Drescher, John Michael Higgins, Rita Moreno, Robert Walden, Tichina Arnold, Valente Rodriguez, D.W. Moffett
Produced by: Fran Drescher, Peter Marc Jacobson, Franco Bario, Ben Raymond

Fran Drescher of The Nanny fame still talks as though she's just gargled with glass shards.

Which might be an overall healthier choice for you than watching her new comedy series, Happily Divorced. It's TV Land's latest effort to mix and match familiar stars of bygone TV hits. And perhaps it's time to stop for a while after striking gold with Hot In Cleveland before sinking to Retired at 35 and now this. That sprightly old-time sitcom-y feeling has quiickly lost its retro-bounce. What's old isn't new again. It's just pretty dreadful.

Happily Divorced, premiering Wednesday after a new episode of Hot In Cleveland, is Drescher's first weekly series since the now defunct WB nework's short-lived Living with Fran, which was axed in 2006. She's Fran again this time out in a comedy ripped from the headlines of her real-life discovery that husband Peter Marc Jacobson was gay.

They split up in 1999 after 21 years of marriage, but remain friends and collaborators on Happily Divorced, which co-stars John Michael Higgins (Kath & Kim) as Peter.

"What's the mattuh, Petuh?" Fran asks for openers after he can't seem to sleep.

"It's just that I think I'm gay," he says.


"I'm gay."

"What? . . . But we just had sex after Leno. How gay can ya be?"

That's never quite explained during these very labored early minutes. But it turns out that Fran's parents, Dori and Glenn (Robert "Lou Grant" Walden, Rita "West Side Story" Moreno), knew all along that Peter preferred the company of men. So Dori counsels, "Sweetheart, don't throw away a good marriage over nothing."

Peter, a realtor, can't afford to move out just yet. "You're gay! Go to the YMCA!" Fran protests as the laugh track goes into hyper-howl. Six months later, they're divorced but still living together while Fran laments to her best pal, Judi (Tichina Arnold), "I haven't had sex since Peter dropped the bomb."

Just about everything drops like a rock in this bomb, with the gay jokes and stereotypes piling up in tandem with Fran cooing over a lug named Elliott (D.W. Moffett segueing from his ruthless quarterback's dad role in Friday Night Lights.) Alas, he's destined to have a severe allergic reaction on a dinner date to a truffle that Fran thought was a black olive. Wah, wah, wah. You can't make this stuff up. But unfortunately they have.

One line is possibly grin-inducing. "I love her voice," a recovered Elliott tells Peter.

"Give it time," he rejoins, again to the complete merriment of a laugh track that otherwise badly needs a long vacation in Cancun.

It's hard to imagine the "give it time" line applying to Happily Divorced, which is more ham-handed than an Erick Dampier jump shot. Drescher still looks good a dozen years removed from the last season of The Nanny. But the lines coming from her mouth are too obvious for words.

TV Land might want to brain storm its way into the 21st century at some point rather than reverting to recycled stars wedded to tired old formulas. It was kind of cute for a short while. Now it's time to grow up.