Idol Chatter

The trademark Mohawk is looking a little sparse, and age has begun to scrunch further his bulldog features, but Mr. T, who laid claim to the tagline “I pity the fool” a quarter-century ago, is back in a reality series, “I Pity the Fool,” that debuts tomorrow night on TV Land.

He’s back, but not badder than ever. The show is “reality” in the heavily (and, here, somewhat jarringly) edited family-makeover genre, in which toughness is matched with teary truth-telling–think “Nanny 911” with an old-school tracksuit instead of that fetching maroon cape and deerstalker. In Wednesday’s premiere episode, T gets the unyielding owner of a flagging car dealership to admit that his beleaguered general manager, who is also his son-in-law, is a hard worker and wonderful father. Their reconciliation clears the way for the sales staff to address their more mundane business problems. That insight–that dysfunctional groups have to fix their basic relationships first–is the basis for the second episode as well.

Though the soundtrack is drenched in T’s familiar growl and we see repeated close-ups of his fist, what makes “I Pity” worth a trip to TV Land is the moments when we see him soften. After a long layoff, during which he fought with lymphoma and deepened his Christianity, Mr. T is more lover than fighter. (He recently swore off his signature gold chains out of respect for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.) Amid his patented bluster, we get hints along the way of Mr. T’s own redemption, and his belief that a loving relationship that makes the family’s renaissance more credible, and more touching.

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