8:30-9 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 2

This fall, ABC leads all networks by putting two new sitcoms on its fall schedule. Even so, it is not doing the genre any favors.

"Cavemen," with a premise based on a car insurance commercial and a hastily revised pilot episode, has been a lightning rod for preseason attacks. ABC, nevertheless, decided it was the stronger of the two sitcoms, and scheduled "Carpoolers" behind it.

As a series, "Carpoolers" is the equivalent of a breakdown in the HOV lane. At the same time, it is a textbook example of how hard it is to capture the social zeitgeist when there is nearly a year between the first pitch and the premiere episode.

"Carpoolers" feeds on growing enthusiasm to conserve energy and reverse global warming. Neither topic arises in the premiere or in a second episode sent to critics, but without these issues playing in the background, the show would be even weirder than it already is.

In another dated bit, the premiere jokes about a booming real estate market. The wife of one carpooler boasts of flipping a house three times in one day. These days, you can't even do that playing Monopoly.

The four carpoolers have little in common except their office building destination. Gracen Brooker (Fred Goss) is a couples therapist with a real estate agent wife, Leila (Faith Ford), and a dimwit son, Marmaduke (T.J. Miller). Dr. Laird (Jerry O'Connell) is a recently divorced dentist and the victim of the world's most one-sided division of property.

Then there's Aubrey (Jerry Minor), the father of a seemingly endless brood of wild kids, and newlywed Dougie (Tim Peper), whose honeymoon with Cindy (Allison Munn) is ongoing.

The best thing in the show's favor is its single-camera style and a cast that knows its way around a punchline, though these are few and far between. In general, stories are contrived and exaggerated, and they fail to deliver even a mild comedy payoff.

In the premiere from exec producer and creator Bruce McCulloch, Gracen feels dejected because his house-flipping wife and dumb-as-a-post son each have better-paying jobs. His carpool buddies come to his aid by breaking into his house and trying to steal his new $200 toaster. No, I'm not sure how that makes any sense either.

In the other episode sent for review, Laird borrows Gracen's wedding ring to score with a hottie who only likes dating married men. Leila notices her husband's bare finger and hilarity tries to ensue, but without much success.

The first hour of primetime Tuesday is perfect for comedy. CBS has "NCIS," Fox has "Bones" and NBC and the CW have reality ("The Biggest Loser" and "Beauty and the Geek," respectively). But ABC's "Carpoolers," a clunker of a comedy, is stalled in the fast lane.

ABC Studios
Executive producers: Bruce McCulloch, Darryl Frank, Justin Falvey, David Miner, Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Producer: Dan Kaplow
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Writer-creator: Bruce McCulloch
Director of photography: Jimi Hawkinson
Production designer: Derek Hill
Editor: Jon Dudkowski
Music: David Schwartz, Gabrielle Mann
Set decorator: Ron Reiss
Casting: Suzanne Goddard-Smythe
Gracen Brooker: Fred Goss
Leila Booker: Faith Ford
Aubrey: Jerry Minor
Dougie: Tim Peper
Cindy: Allison Munn
Marmaduke Brooker: T.J. Miller
Dr. Laird: Jerry O'Connell