Can the recession save the sitcom? Are viewers looking for entertainment comfort food for hard times? The folks behind “Brothers” (7 p.m., Fox) must certainly think so.
NFL legend Michael Strahan plays Mike Trainor, a close proximity to himself. A New York bon-vivant, he rushes home when his mother, Adele (CCH Pounder), informs him that his dad, Coach (Carl Weathers), has suffered a stroke. This forces Mike to share the house with his estranged brother, Chill (Daryl Chill Mitchell), confined to a wheelchair since a car accident. Not long after this awkward family reunion, we discover that Mike’s fortune has been bamboozled away, forcing him to live with his family for the first time in decades.
The plot has all of the contrivances of sitcoms pasts, but it also reflects a radical, almost daring, reversal of reality TV’s prevailing conventions. On shows like “The Hills,” teenagers without any discernible income spend lavishly at malls, restaurants and bars, trailed by camera crews from one location to another.
On a classic three-camera sitcom like “Brothers,” even a veteran of two Super Bowls is confined to a handful of sets. Adele’s scenes take place in the kitchen. Coach rules the basement/rec room. Chill runs a restaurant, and the family gathers and bonds at a bowling alley called “The Gutter.” The notion that an NFL star spends his time bowling with his mom, dad and little brother is a radical affront to “Cribs” and every other show championing conspicuous consumption, radical independence and the idea that a stretch limo is an inalienable right.
Unlike every series from “The Real World” to “The Bachelor” where a gang of strangers gathers in a strange house, on “Brothers,” the family that bowls together, stays together, to an almost claustrophobic degree.
For all of the obvious and not-quite-good-enough one-liners and intrusive laugh-track moments, “Brothers” works more than half the time. Not every sitcom can handle one brother’s bankruptcy, another’s disability and Coach’s creeping dementia without getting overly sentimental or maudlin.
The show’s unstated but obvious message is that when the going gets tough, family is all that’s left. And maybe all that matters. So get your heads out of “The Hills,” kids. You better get working on your bowling game.
• “Rescue Ink Unleashed” (9 p.m., National Geographic) profiles street-smart bikers, bouncers and muscle-bound guys with tattoos, gravelly voices and checkered pasts. “Ink” formed out of a mutual love for animals and a desire to stick up for the defenseless. Over the course of the first hour, they save a pitbull from the dogfight racket, help the housebound dogs of a mugging victim and confront a chicken invasion. A companion “Rescue Ink” book written by Denise Flaim (Penguin, 2009) is also available.
Tonight’s season premieres
• Melinda gives birth on “Ghost Whisperer” (7 p.m., CBS).
• A veteran’s death sparks an investigation on the 20th-season premiere of “Law & Order” (7 p.m., NBC).
• Clark enters training on “Smallville” (7 p.m., CW).
• Allison struggles to regain her gift on “Medium” (8 p.m., CBS).
• Summer Glau (“Sarah Connor Chronicles”) joins the cast of “Dollhouse” (8 p.m., Fox).