Network comedy may have staged a comeback in fall 2011 with the ratings success of CBS's "2 Broke Girls," Fox's "New Girl" and ABC's "Suburgatory."
NBC's "Are You There, Chelsea?" -- debuting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday -- is based on the book by Chelsea Handler (E!'s "Chelsea Lately"), "Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea." Handler co-stars as her own semi-frumpy sister, Sloane, while Laura Prepon ("That '70s Show") plays Chelsea, a slutty, boozy bartender.
The show is gleefully rude in keeping with Handler's personal style, but 7:30 p.m. seems way too early for explicit jokes about sex acts.
This week's pilot, more so than a slightly better episode airing next week, seems forced as it tries to work in the book title as Chelsea prays to vodka after getting a DUI. Her sister suggests that alcohol is not a wise substitute for the Almighty.
"They're both invisible and have a hand in unexplained pregnancies," Chelsea retorts.
To offset Chelsea's crude nature, the show gives her a goofy virgin roommate, Dee Dee (Lauren Lapkus), who almost vomits when she attempts to tell a lie.
CBS's "Rob" (7:30 p.m. Thursday) is easily the funnier of the two series, but it's certainly not remarkable. Rob (Rob Schneider, "Saturday Night Live"), a lifelong bachelor, marries an out-of-his-league woman, Maggie (Claudia Bassols), from a tight-knit Mexican-American family. Yes, it's another Beauty-and-the-Geek pair, with Rob obsessive-compulsive rather than the usual slob sitcom husband.
Rob and Maggie marry in Las Vegas and return home to face Maggie's large family. Naturally, Rob makes a terrible impression with references to guacamole and jokes about the size of Maggie's family deriving from their presumed Catholicism.
Immigration jokes abound, but sometimes the punch lines get turned upside down, which is a welcome surprise, including in a running gag between Rob and Maggie's mom (Diana Maria Riva) about his work. He says he's a landscape architect; she hears "gardener."
"It's an honest living," she says. "I just wish sometimes you people wouldn't use a leaf blower; it's so noisy!"
The premiere, directed by James Widdoes, features one comedic set piece involving candles, a destroyed shrine and Rob and Maggie's grandmother in an accidentally compromising position for the episode's biggest laugh.
Credit "Rob" with providing more visible Latino characters on TV -- Cheech Marin plays Maggie's dad -- but this sitcom needs to evolve into a smarter, less formulaic show before it's worth watching.