'Notes' is too cute for its own good
In the dystopian movie "Children of Men, " the world of 2027 is an anarchic nightmare in which women can no longer have babies. And that may be the only world where people might actually want to watch ABC's new pregnancy sitcom, "Notes From the Underbelly."
This cutesier-than-thou series, which premieres with two episodes tonight at 10 on Channel 5, recycles all the comedy cliches of pregnancy, from the anxieties of the home pregnancy test to the mommy-cultishness of baby showers. And it does so cluelessly, as if it's the first show ever to note that women must change fashions when their tummies grow. Producers Kim and Eric Tannenbaum of "Two and a Half Men" don't seem to realize that these jokes reach back to "The Dick Van Dyke Show" -- and even to "I Love Lucy."
The "Underbelly" cutesiness comes right at you from the opening sequences, which are given a cutesy voiceover by Andrew (Peter Cambor ), who is married to Lauren (Jennifer Westfeldt) . He wants a child; she doesn't. They write a cutesy list of pros and cons, they have cutesy sex, they go cutesy shopping, he gets all cutesy sexist on her and wants her to quit her job, she gets all cutesy girly on him and refuses to stop stocking her shoe closet. She lies on the post coital bed with her legs cutesily pointed at the ceiling, while he cutesily sneaks off to the den to watch "Lost." Cute, ABC.
The urban-pretty Lauren projects a "Sex and the City" vibe, not least of all because she's a shopaholic who breezes through the stores of Los Angeles without any financial concerns. She has two pals, one of whom, Cooper ( Rachael Harris), is a cynical, single lawyer who refers to Lauren's coming child as "that thing inside of you." Like every brassy best girlfriend on every crummy sitcom ever, Cooper is the funniest one in the cast. But she's also the tragic one here. In the "Underbelly" universe of baby madness, Cooper is really lonely and barren underneath her sarcasm.
Lauren's other friend is the opposite of Cooper. Julie (Melanie Deanne Moore) is joyously pregnant, and she does everything she can to draw Lauren into her web of baby worship. But with a little-girl helium voice that could make Bernadette Peters sound lugubrious, Moore makes mommydom seem just plain old dumb.
Andrew, a landscaper, has a buddy, too. Naturally, Danny (Michael Weaver ) is a slacker: According to the rules of network sitcoms built for yuppie consumption, every husband trapped in marriage, parenthood, and regular employment must have a deadbeat friend who keeps him cool by association.
ABC is giving "Notes From the Underbelly" a generous introduction by programming its premiere after the highly rated "Grey's Anatomy," which, tonight, is a clip episode. Like "Grey's," it's primarily addressed to women -- even with the pointless male narration. But next week, when it moves to its regular time slot, Wednesday at 8:30, "Underbelly" will probably begin a fast decline to cancellation. Most likely, it won't be around by the end of 2007, never mind 2027.