TV review

'Surviving Jack': tough love, weak laughs

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Fox's "Surviving Jack" (9:30 tonight, WPGH) is ABC's "The Goldbergs" set 10 years later with fewer laughs and less heart.

That probably sounds harsher than intended because "Surviving Jack" is not terrible -- it has several laugh-out-loud moments -- but the pilot feels longer than its half-hour time slot, and it pales in comparison to "The Goldbergs."

'Surviving Jack'
When: 9:30 tonight, Fox.
Starring: Chris Meloni.

Chris Meloni ("Law & Order: SVU") stars as Scary Dad Jack Dunlevy, who takes "tough love" and negative reinforcement to new levels as he raises his teen son, Frankie (Connor Buckley).

"Kids are like dogs," he says in an upcoming episode. "They don't listen unless you rub their nose in their feces, which, unfortunately, we can't legally do."

In the premiere, Frankie fears standing out at his new high school. So what does his father do? He puts condoms in Frankie's lunch sack. Dad's motto: "Anything worth doing in life is gonna be scary."

In an upcoming episode, Frankie and his pals ask Jack to coach them to spots on the varsity baseball team; more tough love follows. "You understand your minds and bodies are weak and that I will have to crush you and build you back up into men?" Jack warns them.

"Surviving Jack" uses its 1991 setting to full effect -- references to "American Gladiators," Milli Vanilli and Vanilla Ice abound -- including the music on its soundtrack. The show is based on the book "I Suck at Girls" by series co-creator Justin Halpern, whose previous series was CBS's short-lived "$#*! My Dad Says."

Mr. Meloni brings the requisite menace to the title role, which is leavened by co-star Rachael Harris as Jack's wife, who begins working toward a law degree in the pilot.

"Surviving Jack" allows for a smidgen of heartfelt earnestness now and again, but it's less heartwarming than the steadily improving "The Goldbergs" because at heart "Surviving Jack" is the one-joke premise of its title: My dad's a jerk.

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