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TELEVISION REVIEW

'Good Years' is just bad times

John "IF I YELL REALLY LOUD WILL YOU THINK I'M FUNNY?" Lithgow is back on TV, in a new sitcom that could be secretly funded by aspirin manufacturers. Lithgow screams his lines as if each one is italicized, or as if he's doing Shakespeare onstage in a stadium without amplification. If I owned an ear-plug company, I'd hire Lithgow as the ultimate test of the product.

Called ``Twenty Good Years," Lithgow's return to TV after ``3rd Rock From the Sun" is an ``Odd Couple"-ish show about two men who decide to live life after 60 to the fullest. Lithgow is the aggressive and self-absorbed surgeon who is slowly retiring; Jeffrey Tambor is the quiet, wimpy judge. Together they make a pact to do something risky every day until they die. In the premiere, tonight at 8:30 on Channel 7, that means going swimming in the ice-cold ocean. For viewers, that means a few shots of Lithgow prancing around proudly in a Speedo.

The show is just awful. Is this the best NBC can come up with for a comedy that doesn't revolve around young people? No matter how old you are, you won't want to spend time with these unappealing guys. They're not geezers, the grumpy old men stereotypes who are kind of lovable; they're just irritating people. They make jokes about penis size and they bicker about who would be the woman if they were lovers, and I found myself hoping their 20 good years left on earth could be downsized to 20 seconds.

I wish I'd been at the meeting when NBC decided to pair this old-school mess with the more ambitious ``30 Rock." The logic must have been something like, ``Well, they both have numbers in their titles."

And Lithgow isn't the only unbearable one; Tambor, who had such fun on ``Arrested Development," is hard to take because he's such a victim of Lithgow's self-absorption. There are a few peripheral characters, including Judith Light as Tambor's girlfriend and Heather Burns as Lithgow's pregnant daughter. But ``Twenty Good Years" is determined to be a starring vehicle for its two leads. When it comes right down to it, there's simply no air left in the room for anyone else.

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

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