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Jerry O'Connell plays a dentist and stereotypical ladies' man in "Carpoolers." (Karen Neal/ABC)
Fall TV

'Carpoolers' may need to shift gears

ABC series has a great premise, but it lapses into predictability

Just wanting it won't make it so. ABC's "Carpoolers" really should be an absurdist comedy of suburban manners. I love the idea of locating humor in the strange intimacy of riding to and from work with the same people every day. A show like "Seinfeld" would have taken every tiny irritation - hating the smell of hazelnut coffee in the car, singing too loudly with the radio, cellphones - and turned them into unendurable fetishes. The carpool, I do believe, has potential.

And then this new series, which premieres tonight at 8:30 on Channel 5, was created by Bruce McCulloch of Kids in the Hall, one of the funniest and most original comedy troupes ever. Surely McCulloch has enough sick wit to nail all the insanities lying just beneath the civilized surface of such a mundane, daily driving ritual. I want "Carpoolers" to be a culty comedy that will grow into something unique, like "The Office."

But the show doesn't aim very high. It's only a little bit more than just another network sitcom about marital conflict and about how men will be men. The show doesn't have a laugh track, and yet the humor is kind of laugh-tracky and broad, not far enough from what you find on series such as "According to Jim." Faith Ford, who has tended to play big on "Murphy Brown" and "Hope & Faith," fits right in as the most visible wife on the show, Leila.

There are four men in the carpool, the most prominent being Leila's husband, Gracen (Fred Goss). Goss, who was more at home on his late sitcom, "Sons & Daughters," plays neurotic with a twist of Woody Allen around the rim. Tonight, Gracen has a masculinity crisis when he discovers that - holy Neanderthal! - Leila makes more money as a real estate agent than he does as a family therapist. If there is a mustier sitcom plot, I can't think of it right now.

Jerry O'Connell plays Laird, a dentist and stereotypical ladies man, who incites Gracen's insecurity by telling him, "If we don't provide for our women, they don't really need us." Aubrey (Jerry Minor) is the ever-giving husband of a woman who lets their many children run rampant while she watches her TV shows. And Dougie (Tim Peper) is the happily married newcomer to the car, who undergoes a bit of hazing by the others.

There are some entertaining moments in the driving scenes. The guys sometimes sing together, and next week the song "Come on Eileen" causes some conflicts over lyrics. And Gracen's son, Marmaduke (T.J. Miller), is an original creation. He spends all day in his underwear, at his computer, with an idiotic sneer on his lips and a lost look in his eyes. Maybe, eventually, his oddball vibrations will help turn "Carpoolers" into something a little more bent.

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Starring: Fred Goss, Faith Ford, Jerry O'Connell, T.J. Miller, Jerry Minor, Tim Peper

On: ABC, Channel 5

Time: Tonight, 8:30-9