Notes From the Underbelly



10-11 p.m., Thursday, April 12

There's a line in the pilot of "Notes From the Underbelly" in which a doctor tells the excited and newly expectant parents that their baby is due May 18. It is a classic example of wishful thinking on the part of the producers.

Certainly, when the episode was made, they dreamed of this being a fall series that built viewers through the season right up to the delivery of a baby in a May sweep episode. But the series didn't launch last fall or, for that matter, in midseason. So now it's looking more like this baby will be induced after one of the shortest gestation periods in TV medical history.

The official diagnosis: second thoughts by ABC. And if anyone wants a second opinion, I completely concur. Whatever tempted ABC to greenlight this single-camera sitcom based on Risa Green's novel, it didn't come across in the pilot and two additional episodes sent to reviewers.

The series sets out to be a funny take on pregnancy and parenthood. Instead, it becomes a lackluster show about a conflicted mother-to-be and her annoying and oblivious husband that mostly provides ammunition to those who argue that Hollywood is out of touch with the real world.

Jennifer Westfeldt and Peter Cambor play Los Angeles couple Lauren and Andrew. She's a college counselor at a private school for spoiled rich kids and he has a modest gardening business. In real life, they'd be struggling to pay off the mortgage on a small condo in Sherman Oaks, but in "Underbelly" they can afford a lavish home and regular shopping sprees.

Realism simply isn't a strong suit here. From punchline-driven patter that passes for dialogue to the self-centered Andrew (he wants to be a dad mainly because it's part of a lifelong plan he concocted years earlier), this show is as convincing as a door-to-door yacht salesman.

In fairness, there was one good idea that deserves acknowledgment. Lauren has two friends, cynical Cooper (Rachael Harris), a single divorce lawyer, and frivolous supermom-to-be Julie (Melanie Paxson). Their battle for Lauren's heart and mind, like comic book fights between the miniature devil and angel, each perched on a shoulder, provides nearly all of the series' best moments.

It's little wonder that ABC put this gift to Zero Population Growth on the shelf for nearly the entire season. After a premiere of back-to-back episodes at 10 p.m., a time period that is the equivalent of Siberian exile for a sitcom, ABC will shove the show into the slot at 9:30 p.m. Wednesdays, following "According to Jim." There, it can do the network some good by making "Jim" look clever by comparison.

The Tannenbaum Co. and Hill Three Prods.
in association with Warner Bros. Television
Executive producers: Stacy Traub, Barry Sonnenfeld, Kim Tannenbaum, Eric Tannenbaum
Producer: Graham Place
Developed by: Stacy Traub
Based on a book by: Risa Green
Consultant: Risa Green
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Director of photography: Fred Murphy
Production designer: Michael Wylie
Editor: Kevin Tent
Music: Blake Neely
Set designer: Halina Siwolop
Casting: Debbie Romano, Brett Benner
Lauren: Jennifer Westfeldt
Andrew: Peter Cambor
Danny: Michael Weaver
Cooper: Rachael Harris
Julie: Melanie Paxson
Eric: Sunkrish Bala