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TELEVISION REVIEW

Dude, where's my comedy? 'Four Kings' falls flat.

What is ''Four Kings" about? Dude 'tude, pure and simple. Every sitcom viewer has encountered it -- a couple of horny guys in New York City machine-gunning chick jokes and reassuring one another that ''it's bros instead of hos," as they say on ''Four Kings." One of these Peter Pans must be a dumbo; another is required to be a romantic; and there have to be plenty of insane girlfriends, gay-but-not-homophobic jokes, alternative haircuts, and cool T-shirts.

Stupe-coms are nothing without cool T-shirts.

''Four Kings," which premieres tonight at 8:30 on Channel 7, arrives as a bit of an oddity. Recently, NBC comedy has taken a step forward with inventive shows such as ''My Name Is Earl" and ''The Office." But ''Four Kings" harks back to the most exhausting days of the network's ''Must-See" lineup, that 1990s string of cookie-cutter single-guy sitcoms such as, oh, ''The Single Guy." There's nothing original about it, as four urban men spend their days making fun of, looking for, and running away from women. From the makers of ''Will & Grace," it's just another punch-line-driven half-hour about overgrown children in overpriced apartments.

OK, ''Four Kings" isn't the worst of its type, in that some of the jokes hit their mark. Even at its worst, ''Will & Grace" delivers a good zinger or two. The ''Four Kings" quartet volley their insults with the same happy ferocity as the ''Will & Grace" quartet, and every so often a bit rises above the fray, such as a routine about ''slow clapping" -- that obnoxious gesture of condescension. But most of the humor is Neanderthal, and painfully hyperactive. As the guys tease one another, their punch lines evaporate after a nanosecond, to make room for the next.

The central character is Ben, a sincere magazine writer played by Josh Cooke, the Ben Stiller-esque actor from the late, ungreat ''Committed." Ben is the show's decent guy, the male Carrie Bradshaw from ''Sex and the City," and his buddies push him to be more irresponsible with women. In a future episode, they help him lose his one-night-stand virginity.

Ben inherits his grandmother's fabulous apartment, and his three best friends move in. They serve as his court jesters. Seth Green plays Barry, an imp who is obsessively jealous of Ben's luck with the ladies. Jason (Todd Grinnell), looking like Potsie from ''Happy Days," is the ambitious businessman who's obsessed with working out at the gym. And Bobby (Shane McRae) is the stupid one. He and Jason play a game called Chest, which finds them punching each other in the -- wait for it -- chest.

It's not exactly clear what NBC has in mind with ''Four Kings." The network is moving its great comic hopes, ''My Name Is Earl" and ''The Office," to Thursdays tonight, and then undermining them with a weak lead-in show. Giving ''Earl" a lousy launching pad -- what kind of karmic gesture is that?

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com.

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