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TELEVISION REVIEW

Sitcom's premise is poor but the cast has potential

This show should be hateful. Why?

1) ``The Class," tonight at 8 on Channel 4, is a demographically contrived sitcom, built to further CBS's goal of youth-i-fying its Monday night comedy block in the post-`Everybody Loves Raymond" era. It's carefully devised to match ``How I Met Your Mother" and to remind us of ``Friends," which makes it a Franken-sitcom, which makes it creatively corrupt. Like NBC's single-in-the-city clones of the 1990s, it has a factory-made stink to it.

2.) ``The Class" is an old-school sitcom, in that the laugh track is too loud, the setup doesn't hold water, and the characters are one-trick ponies. Each member of the ensemble relives a single joke over and over -- the husband who acts like a screaming queen, the sullen guy who keeps wanting to kill himself, the dude who still lives with his meddling mother. There's one woman, Lina (played by Heather Goldenhersh) , whose every line is designed to show us just how lovably spaced-out she is, and you may want to muzzle her -- or worse -- halfway through the premiere.

3.) If ``The Class" doesn't catch on, it could endanger the ratings of its lead-out, ``How I Met Your Mother," one of the most likable comedies to emerge from last season. A sweet and well-cast vehicle for five characters, ``How I Met Your Mother" deserves all the help it can get to survive.

But ``The Class" isn't atrocious. As with so many sitcoms, the premiere is a labored half hour during which each character declares himself and herself and all the actors try too hard. But if creator David Crane (from ``Friends") can zoom in closer on individual characters in his large cast and give them dimension, he may develop something warm enough to shine through the stagey set and the punch-line mania. ``The Class" will never be smart, or clever, or original, but it does have a chance of becoming inoffensive and diverting.

Jason Ritter leaves the dramatic setting of ``Joan of Arcadia" to star as a wimpy doctor who reassembles his third-grade class to surprise his girlfriend, whom he also met in that class. It's a ridiculous excuse to gather together characters for a sitcom, but there they all are. Lizzy Caplan plays an edgy cynic who loves the fact that the party is a disaster; Sean Maguire plays the gay guy; Lucy Punch plays the woman who has been in love with him since high school.

After the reunion, everyone continues to cross paths, which only stretches the show's thin premise even further. But when the silly setup is forgotten, and the ensemble of eight relaxes, perhaps ``The Class" will fill out. I'm in wait-and-see mode.

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

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