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The Same Ellen, Happily

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TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

Ellen DeGeneres appears destined to play the same character on television indefinitely.

Ellen Richmond of her new CBS comedy, “The Ellen Show,” is essentially Ellen Morgan of her old ABC comedy, “Ellen”: sardonic, self-effacing, single and gay.

She’s also funny, fortunately, thanks to snappy writing on the premiere, making this series one of the more promising new comedies of the fall season. Nor does it hurt that Ellen Richmond’s mother, Dot, is played by that gifted farceur Cloris Leachman, and that they are just swell together in a union made in casting heaven.

We meet Ellen when she’s a Los Angeles Internet executive returning to Clark, her tiny hometown, to receive an award for her career achievements. Clark embraces her, and ultimately she embraces Clark, meaning that L.A. is history and “The Ellen Show” is heading for genial rumbles between mother and daughter and bits of business with Ellen’s noodle of a sister, Catherine (Emily Rutherfurd), who is notable for picking bozos as boyfriends.

Unaware of Ellen’s sexual orientation, meanwhile, her old high school prom date (Jim Gaffigan) wants to turn back the clock, and her former teacher (Martin Mull) hangs around amiably.

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Playing on Ellen’s awkward readjustment (she returns to her old room and its “Charlie’s Angels” pinups), this first episode has an easy wit, an exception being gay gags that smack of being gratuitous, with Ellen getting an extended close look from a mannish lesbian.

Been there, done that humorously on ABC’s “Ellen,” so enough is enough. You’d hope that DeGeneres could be routinely gay in her new show without making it a federal case.

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“The Ellen Show” premieres tonight at 9:30 on CBS, before moving into its regular time Fridays at 8 p.m. The network has rated it TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children).

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