The new sitcom "Notes from the Underbelly" (9 p.m., ABC) brings a "Sex in the City" sensibility to the "What to Expect When You're Expecting" crowd. Is impending parenthood funny?
Birth and babies, pregnancy and conception have had a checkered history on prime-time sitcoms. "I Love Lucy" made the most of the birth of Little Rickey back in a time when you could not utter the word "pregnant" on television. Four decades later, the arrival of an out-of-wedlock child on "Murphy Brown" sparked criticism from Vice President Dan Quayle. But Murphy's difficult labor also made for some great physical comedy. On "Friends," Phoebe even acted as a surrogate mother, giving birth to her sister-in-law's triplets - who, in typical sitcom form, were never heard from again.
"Notes" follows young couple Andrew (Peter Cambor) and Lauren (Jennifer Westfeldt) as they discuss having a child and starting a family. Since Andrew can't carry the child, he more than compensates with scholarly preparation, showering Lauren with facts and advice gleaned from books, magazines and the Internet.
Over the course of the first three episodes, Andrew worries excessively about the cost of raising a child; Lauren contemplates quitting her job and receives conflicting messages about parenting. Fellow expectant mother Julie (Melanie Paxson) puts a positive, if naive, spin on the process, while Lauren's embittered but beautiful friend Cooper (Rachael Harris), a divorced divorce attorney, refuses to let her friend get sucked into "the mommy cult."
Harris makes the most of her stereotyped character, delivering the show's most witty and arch observations. But that's not saying much. Michael Weaver stars as Danny, Andrew's slacker dude best friend. Like much about this show, Danny's presence makes sense only as a sitcom convention; almost everything he does seems contrived.
This is an adult comedy, as any comedy about sex, pregnancy and birth should be. And it makes sense to premiere after "Grey's Anatomy," a show recently and accurately described on "The Showbiz Show with David Spade" (9:30 p.m., Comedy Central) as "an orgy." But after tonight's debut, "Notes" airs on Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m., an hour when some of its tone and content may seem a tad rough.
Tonight's other highlights
¢ While Earl tries to make good with a reporter he once abused, Randy tries to assert his independence on "My Name is Earl" (7 p.m., NBC).
¢ Ed returns on "The Office" (7:30 p.m., NBC).
¢ Hobbes sets out to tackle the miniature-killer cases on "CSI" (8 p.m., CBS).
¢ Liz's love with Flower guy blossoms while Jack fights for his job on "30 Rock" (8 p.m., NBC).
¢ Jeffrey Dean Morgan hosts a one-hour glance back at the soap opera shenanigans on "Grey's Anatomy" (8 p.m., ABC).
¢ A feminist may get away with killing a smut peddler on "Shark" (9 p.m., CBS).
¢ A photographer (Annabella Sciorra, "The Sopranos") invades a patient's privacy on "ER" (9 p.m., NBC).