ABC debuts comedic lineup tonight

Posted Sept. 29, 2009, at 7:41 p.m.

Too often, an actor is forever attached to a longtime TV role in the eyes of viewers.

For most, Kelsey Grammer will always be Frasier Crane, and Patricia Heaton forever will be remembered as Debra Barone.

Not enough viewers could accept them as bickering news anchors in the well-constructed 2007-08 sitcom “Back to You.” But now they’ve returned again, this time in back-to-back comedies tonight on ABC.

Grammer is up first in “Hank” at 8.

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“Hank” is the story of Hank Pryor and his family. Hank gets forced out as CEO of the sporting-goods empire he founded, so he, his wife, Tilly (Melinda McGraw), and their two children decide to downsize and move back to their parents’ hometown of River Bend, Va.

The whole family has to adjust to their change in status, none of which is easy. Also, they have to get used to having Hank, who had largely been an absentee father, around the house. Complicating the situation is Tilly’s brother Grady (David Koechner).

If Grammer’s goal was to be accepted in a character other than Frasier, this isn’t the part. Hank is Frasier lite — pompous, arrogant and clueless about day-to-day living. Grammer has got a good supporting cast, but how long will viewers hang around to watch Hank get humbled? “Hank” is definitely the weakest of ABC’s four new comedies on Wednesday.

Heaton fares better in her new series “The Middle,” which airs at 8:30.

She plays Frankie Heck, a mother of three and an out-of-place car salesperson in a small town in Indiana. Frankie’s husband, Mike (Neil Flynn, “Scrubs”), is a manager at the local quarry.

Their kids are all, to be kind, works in progress. Older son Axl (Charlie McDermott) is a disinterested jock. Daughter Sue (Eden Shur) is still trying, unsuccessfully, to find something she’s good at. Younger son Brick (Atticus Shaffer) is the oddest child on TV since Dewey on “Malcolm in the Middle.”

Like many working moms, Frankie is stressed to the max trying to balance her job and her family. And Heaton makes it painfully funny to watch Frankie struggle to keep from breaking down.

Like “Modern Family” which follows it on the schedule, “The Middle” does an admirable job of taking a hilarious look at everyday family life.

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