After killing her ABC sitcom, "Ellen," a few years ago by turning it into a political statement, Ellen DeGeneres literally tries to get back on track with a new CBS comedy, "The Ellen Show" (9:30 tonight, Channel 4 before moving to 8 p.m. Friday).
In one of the early scenes, the comedian supposedly spends 18 hours or so in her car talking to a woman, Marcy, who works for On Track, a company that provides driving directions.
Viewers will know where this show is heading quickly. DeGeneres' character, Ellen Richmond, matter-of-factly tells her high school prom date that she is gay.
"Congratulations," replies Rusty (Jim Gaffigan of last season's flop, "Welcome to New York").
"No need to harp on it," replies Ellen.
Exactly. It won't be harped on, but it won't be ignored, either. The high school economics teacher, played by Martin Mull, tries to set Ellen up with the gym teacher, Bunny. What, you thought she would be named Butch?
Ellen isn't ready for romance, having just broken up with her girlfriend. Her dating guide clearly is taken from the pages of "Will & Grace." Will, after all, didn't date immediately, either.
Ellen's mother, played by Cloris Leachman, is a bit of a ditz who is perfectly accepting of her daughter's lifestyle. The dating life of Ellen's sister is a much bigger problem since she seems prone to finding losers.
Co-created by stand-up comedian Carol Liefer, "The Ellen Show" relies almost totally on DeGeneres' dry delivery and casual attitude after she drives from Los Angeles back to her hometown of Clark. It really is an old-fashioned comedy that could just as easily aired in the 1970s when Leachman was on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." It even has references to several old television shows and stars, including Mary's old boss, Ed Asner.
In Los Angeles, DeGeneres described Clark as a fantasy town, where everyone treats her homosexuality matter-of-factly. Besides being congratulated, Ellen Richmond is given her own day on her triumphant return to Clark. She also takes trips on a Ferris wheel and down memory lane. The biggest laugh of the night is a sight gag -- a picture of her when she wore a perm.
You don't need On Track to know where all this is going. Ellen stays in Clark, once she learns that the fourth dotcom business she has been working for in five years fails.
The pilot has a connected-by-dots quality, with everything falling into place. What it doesn't have is many laughs. But with DeGeneres and Liefer and this cast involved, maybe things will improve down the road.
Rating: 2 1/2 stars out of 4
Jill Hennessy ("Law & Order") is also going home again in the premiere of NBC's "Crossing Jordan" (10 tonight, Channel 2).
Hennessy plays a medical examiner, Jordan Cavanaugh, who obviously has been watching "CSI" and "Providence" too often. She has has left Los Angeles for Boston to get her job back and to live with her father (Ken Howard).
Dad is a former policeman, who left the force under cloudy circumstances and has been tortured for decades by the murder of his wife.
Jordan and her father didn't have the usual father-daughter conversations. He used to play a "Clue"-like game with his daughter, asking her to play either the victim or the killer.
Hennessy has a killer attitude, too, being forced to take anger management classes in L.A. They obviously didn't work.
Her boss, Garrett (Miguel Ferrer), knows all about Jordan's attitude issues, but he has problems of his own. He appears to be in the middle of either a midlife crisis or a nervous breakdown.
Created by Tim Kring ("Providence"), "Crossing Jordan" does a much better job in developing the three main characters than it does with the mysteries. Ferrer's character, a coroner who loves music and recites poetry, is perfect.
But you don't have to be a homicide detective to be suspicious of the characters played by the guest stars in the first two episodes. The way the crimes are reenacted after Jordan and her father envision what may have happened also makes no sense. I'll say no more about the cases, except that they are resolved much too easily.
In the first two episodes, Kring also manages to find a way to show Hennessy's body in skimpy outfits. I don't think you need a clue as to why.
For now, Hennessy is the main attraction. But if "Crossing Jordan" is to survive, subsequent cases can't be as skimpy as some of her outfits.
Rating: 2 1/2 stars