ABC claims that the comedy/drama "Big Shots" (10 p.m., ABC) explores "what it's like to be a man in 2007." But with a few minor tweaks, it could take place in 1957, or, for that matter, 1907.
Set in a country club, "Big" follows four tycoons and corporate giants and the women who drive them crazy. James Walker (Michael Vartan, "Alias") believes he is a happily married man on the way to the top of AmeriMart Industries, but not long into the pilot, he learns two things that shatter his illusions. The brash consultant Brody Johns (Christopher Titus, "Titus") projects an outward bravado with cigars and brandy, but his wife appears to call the shots. Pharmaceutical czar Karl Mixworthy (Joshua Malina, "The West Wing") has no illusions about his manliness. He describes himself as short and "lactose intolerant." So he cheats on his doting wife and carries on a torrid affair with an interior decorator.
Dylan McDermott ("The Practice") rounds out the cast as Duncan Collinsworth, the confident CEO of Reveal Cosmetics. He's first seen in a compromising position in the wine cellar of the country club with a woman (Paige Turco) who turns out to be his first wife. Divorce seems to have enhanced their love life, but they still have to contend with their cranky and independent 19-year-old daughter (Peyton List), who is barely on speaking terms with her not-so-old man. And if Duncan's life weren't complicated enough, an intrepid reporter seems to be on the trail of an indiscretion that, if revealed, could cast a rather ghastly shadow on Duncan's reputation.
"Big Shots" covers a remarkable amount of expositional ground in its brisk pilot. Unfortunately, all of this action and explication calls on the characters to engage in ludicrously obvious dialogue and careen from one strangely callous act and statement to another.
The show and its characters are far more desperate than amusing, and its stab at topicality is more adolescent than adult. Even the country club's absurdly suggestive name seems like a joke that would send titters through a locker room of eighth-grade boys.
Early in the proceedings, Karl begs off a breakfast date with his wife with the lame excuse that a distributor had confused a batch of children's vitamins with Viagra.
Duncan's "scandal" is similarly obvious, over-the-top and seemingly out of character - if characters this shallow can be said to have any. There's hardly an action that doesn't seem contrived or a line uttered that seems remotely natural. For all of its glitz and moneyed excess, "Big Shots" seems small and phony from beginning to end.
Tonight's season premieres
¢ Earl begins serving his sentence in a disappointing hour-long episode of "My Name is Earl" (7 p.m., NBC). I've always liked this series, but if the Earl-in-prison scenario lasts longer than three weeks, I'm up for an agonizing reappraisal.
¢ Chaos consumes Betty's personal and private affairs on "Ugly Betty" (7 p.m., ABC).
¢ Clark confronts Bizarro on "Smallville" (7 p.m., CW).
¢ A frantic first day for new residents Meredith, Izzie and Christina on "Grey's Anatomy" (8 p.m., ABC).
¢ Michael fears that Dundler-Mifflin is under a spell on "The Office" (8 p.m., NBC). And, of course, the Pam and Jim saga continues.
¢ The team rushes to discover Sarah's fate on "CSI" (8 p.m., CBS).
¢ An adopted toddler from the Sudan vanishes on "Without a Trace" (9 p.m., CBS).
¢ Strict new rules inspire fear and resentment on "ER" (9 p.m., NBC).
Tonight's other highlights
¢ Don suffers a professional setback on "Mad Men" (9 p.m., AMC). AMC announced late last week that "Mad Men" would return for a second season.
¢ The gang grows uneasy with a local eatery on "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" (9 p.m., FX).