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Before 'War' even begins, the casualties are high

''Does she actually think we're gonna let her go out with this guy?" the dad in Fox's ''The War at Home" rants about his teen daughter's black friend. ''I'd rather drink my own urine."

Charming, no?

No. ''The War at Home," which premieres tomorrow night at 8:30 on Channel 25, has absolutely nothing going for it, never mind charm. It's a pile of willfully outrageous jokes trying to cover up a complete dearth of wit, warmth, and character. It's a grating half-hour of attention-getting bluster that has been stuck between ''Family Guy" fanatics and their favorite show, which returns at 9.

The idea seems to be that Dad -- Dave, played by Michael Rapaport -- is a kind of contemporary Archie Bunker, a father of three who's so offensive and stubborn he's funny. But he's more like a karaoke Archie, mechanically spitting out his homophobic and racist gags at the camera as if they were banal sitcom punch lines. And even worse, we're supposed to laugh along with him, and not necessarily at him. We, too, are expected to fret because Dave's 15-year-old son likes show tunes.

So many network sitcom dads are Neanderthals these days, it's almost a convention of the genre. But Dave makes the fathers on ''According to Jim" and ''Still Standing" appear downright metrosexual, as his rage drives him beyond puppy-dog sexism and into the realm of ugly social hysteria. His ignorance and confusion about today's world aren't cute or ironic; they're just scary. And Rapaport, who acts mostly with his neck and head here, terribly overplays Dave's modern agitation, particularly in the confessional interludes when characters talk directly to the camera.

The rest of the family are easily forgettable TV types, although Kaylee DeFer as 16-year-old daughter Hillary is memorable simply because she's got such a clear Lindsay Lohan thing going on. All the members could be dropped into any of the less Fox-ed up network family comedies, such as ''Yes, Dear," and few viewers would probably notice.

It's remarkable how thoroughly ''The War at Home" -- a title that makes its Sept. 11 premiere all the less auspicious -- can transform shock into stock. The more it tries to jolt us with political incorrectness and penis jokes, the more profoundly ho-hum it all gets.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at

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