[06/23/06 - 12:00 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Notes from the Underbelly" (ABC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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With the official start of the 2006-07 season less than three months away, the drumbeats have begun by the networks to tout their new comedies and dramas. What should you keep your eye out for? What should you avoid at all costs? While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we thought we'd spend the next month or so previewing what's in store for the upcoming season. Each day we'll look at one of the 39 new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot.

There's no particular order here, just whatever's next on the stack of tapes. So without further ado, here's today's entry:

(Thursdays at 8:30/7:30c this fall)

The network's description: "Andrew and Lauren have just found out they're going to have a baby, and they're having a difficult time following rule number one - keeping it secret. Suddenly switching to decaf, becoming a teetotaler at cocktail parties, and going to the OBGYN are all difficult to keep from family and close friends. Well Andrew and Lauren are about to learn that, when the secret gets out, the politics of parenthood can be just as demanding as raising a child. Sometimes all that "help" from loving but intrusive parents and "advice" from well-meaning but competitive friends who are trying to show you what great parents they are is not exactly what you're looking for. Knowing what's best for the child could be the easiest part... maintaining your relationships with family and friends can be the real challenge. Director Barry Sonnenfeld and two producers of "Two and a Half Men" create a comic take on life's greatest adventure. As these friends watch their lives change to accommodate the little stranger, their relationships change in ways they never expected before they were expecting. Peter Cambor and Jennifer Westfeldt ("Kissing Jessica Stein") star."

What did they leave out: It's apparently based on Risa Green's book of the same name.

The plot in a nutshell: Married thirtysomethings Andrew (Peter Cambor) and Lauren (Jennifer Westfeldt) are trying to get pregnant. It hasn't been an easy road to get to this stage though (as Andrew puts it: "I love my wife, but she's a pain in the ass."). An extended flashback (and Andrew's narration) shows us that Lauren wasn't initially keen on the idea. After all there's still the list of things they want to do (white water rafting, etc.) before starting a family, there's still the appeal of being able to splurge on a hot cocktail dress and who really wants to join the "trendy" baby cult anyway? But after their friends Eric (Sunkrish Bala) and Julie (Melanie Deanne Moore) announce they're expecting, Andrew makes a lengthy pros/cons list and a cute little girl makes her day, Lauren's hesitation starts to chip away. Along the way we also meet Lauren's best friend Cooper (Rachael Harris), a man-eating divorce lawyer, and Andrew's own best friend Danny (Michael Weaver), whose layabout ways essentially make him their first child.

What works: It's a fairly harmless show in that it's not "bad"...

What doesn't: ...however it's not really all that funny either. It's more or less every cliche you can think of about having or not having kids as told through the eyes of the blandest characters possible. More troubling however is that the show's single-camera format doesn't really bring anything to the table. It's actually pretty surprising Barry Sonnenfeld directed this as it "feels" like your typical C+ sitcom rather than something unique like "My Name Is Earl" and "The Office." To its credit though, there is one genuinely funny moment involving the creepy new trend of pregnant couples taking black and white photos of the man listening to the woman's belly. That being said, I still can't imagine making an effort to find this show, especially considering its far superior comedy competition.

The challenges ahead: Does ABC really expect two new comedies ("Big Day" and "Underbelly") to post a number in the lead-off spot on Thursday nights?

  [june 2006]  


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