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Center of the Universe aired from October 2004 until January 2005 on CBS.

Beefy John Barnett ( John Goodman) ran Barnett security, a successful private security company, and had been happily married to Kate ( Jean Smart), his loving, sensible wife for more than 20 years. Miles ( Spencer Breslin), their son, was good at academics but pretty much a nerd when it came to anything else. The eldest of 3 children, John's life would have been good were it not for the rest of his family-he was an island of normalcy in the middle of a sea full of crazies. He had just hired his younger brother, Tommy ( Diedrich Bader), an incompetent flake who couldn't keep a real job, and was already regretting it. His divorced, single-parent sister, Lily ( Melinda McGraw), was a therapist who was incapable of maintaining a functional relationship and his parents weren't much better. Art ( Edward Asner), John's combative father, complained about almost everything and Marge ( Olympia Dukakis) , his spaced-out mother, was in a world of her own.

A Review from variety

September 26, 2004 6:00AM PT
Center of the Universe

By Brian Lowry

Critics invariably have a least-favorite new series each fall, and CBS has generously obliged with “Center of the Universe,” a colossal waste of a talented cast in a show with little point or purpose. John Goodman has the title role as the set-upon guy who holds a crazy family together, but crass writing and overly broad gags result in a series that makes “Yes, Dear” look like “Masterpiece Theater.” Blessed with a hammocked berth between “King of Queens” and “CSI: New York,” sheer inertia is this sitcom’s best chance of not becoming a chalk outline.

John Barnett (Goodman) and his wife Kate (Jean Smart) love each other, but oy, the relatives. Their kid (“The Cat in the Hat’s” Spencer Breslin) is a nerd who favors sport coats, John’s brother (Diedrich Bader) is a slacker, his sister (Melinda McGraw) has man trouble, and his Viagra-popping dad (Ed Asner) is aggravating his equally nutty mom (Olympia Dukakis).

Despite all that to keep them busy, in the premiere, John and Kate decide to renew their wedding vows, an event of course threatened by members of the wacky brood each imploding for one reason or another. This forces John to make like the COTU and reestablish order in his little world.

Beyond the fact that nearly everyone here has been in a much better comedy, there’s something decidedly retro about the program, with producing team Mitchel Katlin and Nat Bernstein aspiring to a level of zaniness that never materializes. Although everyone appears to be giving their all, the tone is thus uniformly lifeless — perhaps because the entire show feels as if it were pieced together from parts of old sitcoms.

Credit Goodman’s work ethic between this and his voice stint on “Father of the Pride.” After a seminal comedy like “Roseanne,” though, it’s too bad he hasn’t been more selective in subsequent sitcom choices, as anyone who remembers “Normal, Ohio” can attest.

The same can largely be said of CBS’ comedy development, with “Two and a Half Men” representing a recent anomaly by actually being funny. Granted, the network clearly has no intention of reinventing the wheel, but sister Viacom networks Nick at Nite and TV Land already serve up more laudable reruns nightly for those hungering for this kind of warmed-over dish.

Center of the Universe

CBS, Wed. Oct. 6, 9:30 p.m.

Production: Taped in L.A. by Tannenbaum Prods. in association with Warner Bros. Television and CBS Prods. Executive producers, Andy Ackerman, Eric Tannenbaum, Kim Tannenbaum, Mitchel Katlin, Nat Bernstein, Alan Kirschenbaum; producer, Bari Halle Cannon; director, Ackerman; writers, Bernstein, Katlin.

Crew: Camera, Steven V. Silver; editor, Bill Lowe; music, Rick Marotta; casting, Nikki Valko, Ken Miller. 30 MIN.

Cast: John Barnett - John Goodman Kate Barnett - Jean Smart Tommy Barnett - Diedrich Bader Lily Barnett - Melinda McGraw Miles Barnett - Spencer Breslin Art Barnett - Ed Asner Marge Barnett - Olympia Dukakis

A Review from The New York Times

Something About the Show Is Familiar, Ray, er, John

Published: October 20, 2004

Network sitcoms are a little like Broadway plays or republics of the former Soviet Union: their survival is so precarious that it seems unfair to scrutinize them too closely.

And it is obvious that CBS tried really, really hard to make "Center of the Universe," as good as "Everybody Loves Raymond," the hit series now entering its ninth and final season.

"Center" is exactly like "Raymond'' except for one thing: it lacks a creative spark. The strength of "Everybody Loves Raymond" lies mostly in the fact that the show is, as the credits explain, "based on the comedy of Ray Romano." The weakness of "Center of the Universe," is that it too seems based on the humor of Ray Romano.

Its star, John Goodman, is a wonderful performer, but he is an actor, not a stand-up comic with a compelling stage persona. He plays John Barnett, happily married to a sharp-tongued but tender wife, Kate (Jean Smart), and less happily surrounded by his kooky family, which is eerily like Ray's: John has a meddlesome mother, Marge (Olympia Dukakis), a cranky father, Art (Ed Asner), a bizarre younger brother, Tommy (Diedrich Bader).

On "Everybody Loves Raymond," Amy, a friend, is the neurotic spinster; on "Center," it is John's sister, Lily (Melinda McGraw), who is nutty and unmarried. And John has a child who, like Ray's children, remains mostly in the background.

A result is a copycat sitcom in which some of the most accomplished actors on television are swaddled in constricting roles that leave little room for improvisation or character development. "Center of the Universe" has some lively moments and a few funny lines, but mostly the show demonstrates how difficult the sitcom genre is, and how seemingly arbitrary the path to success. Mr. Romano had a hit with a similarly talented cast and the same formula, bent around his idiosyncratic stand-up comedy. Yet all the high-caliber actors, highly paid comedy writers and tightly honed one-liners cannot lift "Center of the Universe" off the ground.

Center of the Universe

CBS, tonight at 9:30, Eastern and Pacific times; 8:30, Central time.

Alan Kirschenbaum, Mitch Katlin, Nat Bernstein, Eric Tannenbaum and Kim Tannenbaum, executive producers. Produced by Warner Brothers Television Production Inc. in association with CBS Productions.

WITH: John Goodman (John Barnett), Jean Smart (Kate Barnett), Diedrich Bader (Tommy Barnett), Melinda McGraw (Lily Barnett Manning), Spencer Breslin (Miles Barnett), Ed Asner (Art Barnett), Olympia Dukakis (Marge Barnett) and Holmes Osborne (Minister).

A Review from the Chicago Tribune

`Center of the Universe' wastes talent and time
October 20, 2004|By Sid Smith, Tribune arts critic.


Some of the more durable, likable performers in show business -- John Goodman, Jean Smart, Olympia Dukakis and Ed Asner -- team up for one of the fall's most disastrous comedies, "Center of the Universe" (8:30 p.m., WBBM-Ch. 2), a program unlikely to prove central or universal for anyone.

Yet another sitcom about a hapless father (Goodman), his long-suffering wife (Smart), his problematic offspring (Spencer Breslin) and his dotty parents (Dukakis and Asner), "Center" boasts an opening episode short on laughs and good taste.

In a blatant echo of "Everybody Loves Raymond," Dukakis and Asner are on hand as eccentric parents, mostly present to be the butt of ongoing jokes about the elderly and sex. It's one thing to waste such veteran talents; it's another to watch them shamelessly embarrass themselves.

After Asner praises his wife's tight buttocks, Dukakis replies, by way of explanation, "Pilates," and then suggests Goodman, as her son, "cop a cheek" as proof. One plot line in the opening involves Asner on a sex supplement and now too frisky at 70 for Dukakis' tolerance. He deserves a tumble, he argues. "One more tumble and you'll break a hip," she counters.

Goodman, forlorn of genuinely funny lines, is meant here as Everyman foil to a family of wackos. Not only does he win the indecorous chore of negotiating his septuagenarian parents' love lives, but, as head of a security firm, he's also forced to employ his two ne'er-do-well siblings: Diedrich Bader and Melinda McGraw. His son's idea of schoolwear, meanwhile, is a fancy blazer and even a kilt. Goodman wonders, "Why can't he just dial up porn like other kids?"

Clearly, the writers (Nat Bernstein and Mitchel Katlin) are convinced anything about sex is funny.

Oh, the parents are also meddlesome and enter unannounced, and the brother and sister are lovable, daffy and incompetent professionally and socially. There's a sweet plot line involving Goodman and Smart reconfirming their vows after a 20-year marriage. But even here the lines are either cloying or dumbly salacious, jokes about Smart mentioning the top she wore on their honeymoon and Goodman noting that he has laid it out on the bed upstairs.

This one could only get better, though it may not be around long enough to find out.

For Tim's TV Showcase go to

For the Universe according to John Goodman go to
Date: Sat January 22, 2005 � Filesize: 33.5kb � Dimensions: 389 x 272 �
Keywords: Center Of The Universe: Cast Photo


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