LOS ANGELES, Aug. 21 (UPI) -- One benefit of summer reruns is discovering the pleasures of hypnotically awful shows you would never ordinarily watch.
Like, for instance, "Seventh Heaven," the smarmy WB hit about a minister (Stephen Collins), his wife and their seven children. I've become addicted to the current rerun story line crisis about the family's eldest son marrying a Jewish girl. They're both studying to be doctors, you see, and -- as they explain to their skeptical families -- wedded bliss would help them concentrate on medical school as they would no longer be so ... frustrated.
Not only that, the girl's father is a rabbi. Not only that, the rabbi is played by standup comic Richard Lewis, chewing the scenery, and the rabbi's wife by Saturday Night Live alumna Laraine Newman, radiating kindly, moist-eyed concern and what appears to be an awful lot of plastic surgery.
Newman continues to radiate moist-eyed kindliness even after Collins, the minister, discovers his son has been considering converting to Judaism and blurts out: "I know who you are and who you're not, and you are NOT a JEW!"
Realizing that doesn't sound so great, the minister tries another tactic: "You take one bite of kugel and suddenly no Jesus? It wasn't even Jewish kugel. It was good old-fashioned WASP kugel."
The reason it was WASP kugel, by the way, is because the minister's wife made it, improvising when she couldn't find chicken fat by adding (unkosher) cream to the recipe instead. Smooth!
Anyway, all this is fabulous enough. But because I've been watching "The Rerun Show," NBC's new summer comedy of "MAD TV"-style TV parodies, during the same past few weeks I've been wallowing in "Seventh Heaven" reruns, I've noticed a few things.
Lewis's constantly shrugging, jokey rabbi, for instance, bears an uncanny resemblance to "Rerun Show" cast member Brian Beacock's interpretation of Natalie, the Mindy Cohen character on "The Facts of Life." As Beacock plays her, Natalie wears a giant Star of David and shrugs jokily with every line of dialogue.
"If I had known there were going to be so many people here, I would have polished my star!" said a shrugging Beacock, in character as Natalie at the "Rerun Show" news conference.
Also, I noticed that the two youngest "Seventh Heaven" children seem to fill the same function as the two youngest on "The Partridge Family" -- they are human props with nothing to do save add an extra layer of cuteness.
"The Rerun Show" ramps that up a notch with its "Partridge Family" episode: the two youngest are interpreted as hulking Baby Hueys, staring vacantly as the action -- which included a guest spot by Danny Bonaduce, reprising his role as the original Danny Partridge -- unfolds.
"Seventh Heaven" seems heaven sent for a "Rerun Show" interpretation, but so far the show has stuck to parodying classic shows that are no longer on the air. Except for "Saved By the Bell," in fact, all the shows come from Sony's Columbia/Tri-Star library.
Last week's "Saved By the Bell In Space" episode, as it happens, was one of the funniest things I've seen on TV. "The Rerun Show" sticks to the original shows' original scripts, word for word, but then reinterprets them.
So "Saved By the Bell" was reimagined as an episode from the current, horrifically awful "Star Wars" trilogy, with the priggish Jessie character as Princess Amidala and Screech as a dead-on accurate Jar-Jar. (To the disappointment of both Jessie/Amidala and Screech/Jar-Jar, however, the Wookie was elected Homecoming Queen.)
Parodying "Married With Children" was problematic, since that show was a satire in itself. So this week "The Rerun" cast portrayed the famous Weenie Tots script as an episode from "The Osbournes." Ozzie/Al Bundy: "What's a [bleep]ing Weenie Tot? Peg! A Weenie Tot is a delicious piece of breaded meat and it's (pauses to take a puff of oxygen) deep-fried in pure lard. It's delicious!"
Other times "The Rerun Show" sticks reasonably closely to the original concept but adds Dada-esque touches. When Florence the maid gets in a fight with George Jefferson and moves in with the neighbors on the Rerun version of "The Jeffersons," for instance, the movers haul in an enormous rack of clothes, an Easter Island totem pole, a vase with a leg sticking out of it and a stuffed antelope.
Upcoming episodes of "The Rerun Show," which premiered Aug. 1 to solid ratings and should run for at least three more weeks (generally on Tuesday nights), include parodies of "Bewitched," "What's Happening?" "Sanford & Son" and "One Day at a Time."
So far, no one involved with the original shows has been insulted, say "The Rerun Show" producers. And really, why should they be? Since the parodies stick to the original scripts, the writers get residuals. And the actors get revived publicity.
"That parody is probably the sincerest form of flattery is kind of what governs the show," said "Rerun Show" executive producer and "MAD TV" veteran David Salzman.