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TV REVIEWS : WB Slate of Comedies Is No Laughing Matter

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Judging from the level of the three comedies premiering tonight, the ballyhooed new WB Television Network has serious designs to make Fox look like the Learning Channel. Yo, verily, “Martin” is “Masterpiece Theatre” by comparison.

First up is “The Wayans Bros.,” one more reason to get the willies at the very thought of extended celebrity families. Keenen’s younger siblings, Marlon and Shawn, preen and mug their manic way through a half-hour so exhaustively puerile that it’s impossible to believe it wasn’t originally conceived for a Saturday morning slot.

One’s an opportunist, the other’s an imbecile. Tonight the floundering bros come up with a nappy new Jheri-Kurl-like hair treatment, Goop! Hair It Is, which they plug on a live public-access “infomercial.” Gary Coleman guest stars as himself, with Garrett Morris showing up just long enough to turn down an offer to plug their product: “I’m sorry, man. I have integrity.” Think again.

The two shows that follow are at least slightly more cleverly written and performed-- slight being the operative word--if far more sexually crude; what a charming trade-off.

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In “Unhappily Ever After,” we’re promised, creators Ron Leavitt and Arthur Silver “do for divorce what they did for marriage in ‘Married With . . . Children.’ ” In other words, if you thought “Married” was full of nothing but rancor, imagine what these guys can do with a family of folks who have even more reason to hate one another.

Actually, this is nearly indistinguishable from its predecessor in mindless dysfunctionalism, except that the venom is turned up to 11 rather than 10, and there’s a talking bunny toy with the voice of Bobcat Goldthwait who lives with newly single loser Geoff Pierson.

Rabbit: “Save your sentiment for ‘Full House.’ Your (ex-)wife’s a shrew, and if you think your children love you, they don’t.”

Divorced man: “Great! Now I’m gonna be bunny-whipped.”

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PMS gags are as good as it gets here.

Finally, there’s the serial sitcom “Muscle,” set in a health club, a crude-upon-crude ensemble farce so painful it could just make you wistfully nostalgic for the high wit of “Perfect.”

Tonight’s hourlong premiere more than fully introduces us to the lounge lizard who preys on rich older women, the conniving understudy who gets a role by sabotaging the lead actress’ workout equipment, a steroid-shooting hunk unwittingly lusting after a lesbian, a therapist who gleefully spills all his clients’ sexual secrets to fellow exercisers, etc.

The climax is a break-in at a sperm bank, with the lesbian character quipping, “Ooh, I’ve had nightmares like this, y’know, me in a room surrounded by thousands of gallons of sperm.” This is only slightly more tasteless than the sex-in-a-spa opening sequence, featuring a fleeting guest shot by Adam West, who dies in the first three minutes, clearly knowing what’s good for him.

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In a remarkable bout of consistency among different program providers, every character in each of these shows is a stereotype existing only to deliver the next salacious one-liner for the benefit of a thoroughly unconvincing guffaw track.

If this troika is an indication of what’s to come, WB could be the very first network without a single human being anywhere in evidence. That is the rake’s progress.

* “The Wayans Bros.” premieres at 8 p.m. , followed at 8:30 by “Unhappily Ever After” and the one-hour debut of “Muscle” at 9, on KTLA-TV Channel 5.


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