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ABC’s ‘Crumbs’ surprisingly funny

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Jane Curtin and Fred Savage star in the new ABC sitcom "Crumbs."

Jane Curtin and Fred Savage star in the new ABC sitcom “Crumbs.”

Ron Tom, ABC

The truth is, I didn't really expect to like the new sitcom "Crumbs."

It is, after all, a comedy whose premise doesn't exactly sound comedic. It's about the most dysfunctional of families — "successful" son Mitch Crumb (Fred Savage) comes home to help his Mom, Suzanne (Jane Curtin), when she's released from a mental hospital. She's been there since she tried to run over her estranged husband Billy (William Devane) with her car.

Billy left her for a younger woman. And he's gotten the younger woman pregnant.

One of Mitch's brothers died in a boating accident. The other, Jody (Eddie McClintock), has major issues with Mitch. And Jody doesn't even know (yet) that Mitch hasn't come out to his family about the fact that he's gay.

Surprise, surprise! It's darn funny. And I like it a lot.

"Crumbs," which premieres tonight at 8:30 on ABC/Ch. 4, is bright, funny, touching, dramatic and heartfelt, sometimes in the same moment. And it's not a dark show, despite its dark premise.

Curtin is a hoot as Suzanne, who's not as crazy as she wants people to believe. But crazy enough. Savage is perfectly cast as the most "normal" family member — the one trying to hold them together.

I never would have thought a comedy about attempted murder, accidental death, mental illness and sibling rivalry would be funny. But it is.

FRED SAVAGE IS BEST known as Kevin Arnold, the kid whose "Wonder Years" charmed us from 1988-93. But that was a very different TV family from the Crumbs.

"I don't know if Kevin Arnold could even conceive of the Crumbs," Savage said.

JANE CURTIN HAS already starred in two hit sitcoms ("Kate & Allie" and "3rd Rock from the Sun") and she's hoping lightning strikes three times.

"I did it because it made me laugh, and it's very rare that you read a script for a half-hour (show) that can actually make you laugh," she said. "So I figured — might as well."

It's no secret that these are lean times for good TV sitcoms, and Curtin has a theory why — the corporate consolidation in media/TV companies and the accompanying involvement of more and more network executives in creative decisions.

"It seemed as though prior to all of the consolidation at the networks and everything, it was easier to get an individual voice heard on television," she said, "and that voice would be nurtured and allowed to run its course. But now it seems as though there is a formula that has to be followed. And I think the audience suffers."

Savage agreed. "I do think a lot of them are very homogenized," he said. "They all kind of seem the same."

Which is not Curtin's idea of what comedy should be. "Comedy should be explosive. Comedy just should be something that comes from here and goes out and (who) knows what's going to happen. It's very safe now."

E-mail: pierce@desnews.com