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Two new sitcoms are light on laughs

When it comes to comedy, Chicago has a rich history. And I'm not talking about the Cubs for most of the 20th century.

It's the city with many legendary alumni of the Second City theater group, including the late John Belushi, Jim Belushi, Robert Klein, George Wendt, Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Bonnie Hunt and scores of others.

Now it is the setting of two new shows attempting to continue this year's revival of the sitcom. First up is "The Loop," the more promising of the two that premieres at 9:30 tonight on WUTV after "American Idol," before moving to its regular time slot at 8:30 Thursday after "That '70s Show."

The title comes from the well-known roadway in Chicago, though it has double meaning. Its twentysomething characters are more than a bit loopy.

They are the usual sitcom stock. Sam (Bret Harrison) is a decent, stable guy trying his best to balance his time between the responsibilities of work and the goofy play demands of his irresponsible roommates. He's got a corporate job at an airline and works for a demanding boss, Russ (Philip Baker Hall). Russ feels he owns Sam and has the right to listen to his private cell phone calls.

Sam's older, oversexed co-worker, Meryl (Mimi Rogers), puts even more inappropriate demands on him. In short, the adults he works with are as infantile as the twentysomethings he lives, works and play with. He also has an overqualified secretary, Darcy (Joy Osmanski).

Sam's older brother, Sully (Eric Christian Olsen), is a slacker and babe magnet. Sam also has two female roommates, Piper (Amanda Loncar), his beautiful, unattainable best friend, and Lizzy (Sarah Mason), a beautiful blond bartender who wouldn't have looked out of place in a remake of "Three's Company."

It all sounds pretty second-rate by sitcom standards, but Harrison is an appealing everyman and the first two episodes do have a goofy "Scrubs"-like spirit. Rating: 2 1/2 stars out of 4

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"The Loop" is an Emmy winner compared to "Modern Men" (9:30 p.m. Friday, WNYO-TV), the new WB comedy about three clueless friends who hire a female life coach to help them better understand women and themselves.

This is the comedy that Amherst's Wendie Malick had to leave after ABC unexpectedly decided to renew the John Stamos comedy, "Jake in Progress." "Jake" didn't last long, but ABC still did Malick a favor.

Jane Seymour took her role as life coach Victoria Stangel, which added a British accent to the part, but subtracted Malick's ability to milk laughs out of the weakest material. George Wendt ("Cheers") is along for the ride as Tug Clarke, the father of the only relatable human that Victoria is counseling. Marla Sokoloff ("The Practice") also is on board as Tug's daughter.

The three so-called modern men are a romantic, Tim Clarke (Josh Braaten of "Less Than Perfect") seeking a soul mate; a dim bulb, Doug Reynolds (Eric Lively of "The L Word"), who probably can't spell love; and a one-night stand specialist, Kyle Brewster (Max Greenfield of "Veronica Mars") who has started to regret his behavior.

In the first three episodes made available for review, the life coach convinces the trio to try something completely different and be honest with women. It works in varying degrees on the women, who practice role reversal.

But to be totally honest, I didn't laugh once in three episodes. "Modern Men" is a lifeless, clueless comedy, the latest in a parade of oversexed WB comedic losers that should help viewers understand why the network will be history in September. Rating: 1 star

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The latest edition of Donald Trump's "The Apprentice" got a big boost locally from the unexplainable popularity of NBC's game show, "Deal or No Deal." After scoring a weak 5.5 on Channel 2 and finishing No. 4 in the time slot on WGRZ-TV on March 6, Trump's show hit a 9.4 on Monday. Plenty of the game show viewers still said "no deal" to Trump. The lead-in had a 13.1 rating. To make matters worse for the Donald, "The Apprentice" started with a 10 rating and slipped to a 7.7 by show's end when viewership is supposed to increase.

Buffalo viewers won't miss "Joey," which NBC quickly dropped from its Tuesday schedule after a poor ratings performance. The Tuesday episodes had ratings here in the 2's, which is pathetic by prime-time standards.

Meanwhile, Julia Louis-Dreyfus got some good local news Monday. Both episodes of her new CBS series, "The New Adventures of Old Christine," scored strong ratings on WIVB-TV and out-delivered their popular lead-ins. The 8:30 p.m. show had a 14.2 rating and the 9:30 p.m. episode had a 15.9. It topped its popular lead-in, "Two and a Half Men," and grew to a 16.3 in the final 15 minutes. If it does as well next week, it will qualify as a hit.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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