TV Review: 'Carpoolers'

Confession time: I laughed a few times during the second episode of "Carpoolers," one of two new ABC comedies premiering Tuesday night. Having seen the pilot earlier this summer, I wasn't expecting that.

Uneven throughout, but blessed with a couple of game performances by Fred Goss and Jerry O'Connell, "Carpoolers" probably won't turn around ABC's fortunes in the half-hour comedy department (one wonders if anything can at this point; that would be one large task). Viewers who adjust to its quirks -- and there are more than a few -- might find some genuine humor in there, but "fitfully rewarding" is not the stuff of TiVo season passes.

(Incidentally, ABC didn't send out review copies of its other Tuesday comedy, "Cavemen." The original pilot was the subject of almost universally bad buzz, and the network is apparently trying to protect its substantially retooled product from further beatdowns. We'll post some brief thoughts about it on the site after the premiere.)

The quirks come courtesy of former Kid in the Hall Bruce McCulloch, who created the show and wrote the first two episodes. He applies his off-kilter sensibility to the story of four men -- Gracen (Goss), Laird (O'Connell), Aubrey (Jerry Minor) and Dougie (Tim Peper) -- from the same suburban neighborhood who commute to work together.

The first three all have problems at home: Gracen, a mediator, feels emasculated because his wife (Faith Ford) and oaf of a son (T.J. Miller) are making more money than him. Dentist Laird lives in an empty house because his ex-wife took everything in the divorce. And Aubrey is the ultimate henpecked husband, wrangling a houseful of kids while his wife sits and watches television. New guy Dougie, meanwhile, is still in the honeymoon phase of his marriage -- so much so that he and wife Cindy (Allison Munn) are prone to saying things like "Let's wave goodbye at the same time!"

"Carpoolers" bounces back and forth from the diamond lane to work to home life, not to mention dividing the focus between its four leads, which makes for a pretty disjointed half-hour. The tone varies pretty widely too, from fairly subtle verbal jabs to broad slapstick. It simply doesn't hang together very well, especially in Tuesday's premiere. Having disposed of comedy-stunting exposition, the second episode runs a little more smoothly, but it's still a stop-and-go sort of affair.

When it does, it's often due to Goss (of ABC's shamefully short-lived "Sons & Daughters") and O'Connell, who play off one another with great ease. For those who saw "Sons & Daughters," it's no surprise that Goss does put-upon well, but O'Connell is something of a surprise as Laird, who protests a little too much about how great it is to be single again. Ford, too, has a couple of nice moments with Goss.

For every one of those, though, there are at least as many jokes that don't quite connect, or situations that we've seen hundreds of times before. "Carpoolers" is far from the worst comedy to make it onto the air in these lean times, but nor is it a show that will make many people want to rush home from work.

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