''Jake in Progress," ABC's new metrosexual romantic comedy, deserves a friendly handshake. It arrives smack in the middle of the network sitcom wasteland hoping to be something vital and distinct. It might not seem so on the surface, since it's a vehicle for sitcom veteran John Stamos, best remembered for his role in the conventionally banal ''Full House" from 1987 to 1995. When you see Stamos's chipper face, with its 100-watt smile, you almost automatically hear a laugh track cackling in the background.
But ''Jake in Progress," which premieres with two episodes tomorrow at 9 p.m. on Channel 5, clearly aims higher than everyday punch line mongering. It wants to be a sparkling Manhattan comedy that, as ABC has been hinting at so shamelessly, is a male version of ''Sex and the City." Ultimately, it fails in its lofty mission, but that's only a part of the ''Jake in Progress" story. It's worth giving this series props for at least striving to act like a contemporary adult comedy amid a barrage of caveman sitcoms in which hubby has to take out the trash to get sex. Seriously, folks, ''Yes, Dear" just aired its 100th episode. And ''According to Jim" is in its fourth season.
Filmed without an audience, ''Jake" has the location richness and urban gloss of a feature film. In one bouncy touch, the characters' many cellphone conversations -- remember, this is a Manhattan comedy -- are shown on a split screen in the manner of a lighthearted ''24." (In fact, the show's original concept, later deemed too strained, was to spend the season following Jake in real time over the course of one day.)
And ''Jake" offers a likably cynical glimpse at the fluffy world of entertainment and publicity. Stamos's Jake is a PR agent who massages his clients' egos and tweaks their images for the press. In tomorrow night's second episode, at 9:30, he panics when one of his ''Gaymigos" -- a reality makeover trio like the Fab Five of ''Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" -- wants to come out of the closet as straight. And later in the season, Jake falls for a woman who has only become beautiful after appearing on a ''Swan"-like show called ''Butterfly." She looks like a bombshell, but she acts like a misfit. These aren't madly clever twists by any means, but they nonetheless represent an effort by the writers to be relevant.
ABC is so excited about ''Jake" that it's introducing the series in its hottest real estate, the Sunday home of ''Desperate Housewives," before moving it to Thursdays at 8. Already having tested ''Desperate Housewives" fans with too many repeats and preemptions, the network programmers are taking a risk with this move. But they might not be crazy. Stamos could become a kind of male Teri Hatcher, a forgotten TV actor who has unexpected charm as a single looking for love. He plays a slick guy whom his boss, played with sardonic wit by Wendie Malick, calls a ''knight in shining Armani"; but he's also a likably sweet neurotic who gets sweaty palms from anxiety and who is starting to long for a substantial relationship. In one episode later this season, he accidentally projects a breath mint into a famous actress's hair.
OK, now the problems. The battle of the sexes in ''Jake" is doggedly conventional. Rather than ''Sex and the City," the show sometimes comes off like ''Mr. Big and the Little Women." Our hero dates a string of ladies played by model-like guest actresses, and they seem to tolerate sexist treatment better than they should. The show too often falls back on the same stale all-men-are-dogs perspective of a more boilerplate sitcom such as ''Two and a Half Men" or the obnoxious ''Mind of the Married Man." The guy-talk dynamic among Jake and his two best friends wants to be Seinfeldian, but it has absolutely no originality or bent wisdom.
And that's the second biggest problem with ''Jake." Jake's two best friends are flat characters we've seen on too many other sitcoms -- a boring married dentist (Ian Gomez) dying to go to a strip joint and a zany performance artist (Rick Hoffman) who's a loser with the ladies. Not only is the friendship among these three men unlikely, given Jake's fast-track life, but it's the antithesis of the show's real aim: to be different.
Matthew Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com.