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TELEVISION & RADIO | TELEVISION REVIEW

We might just invite them over every week

February 05, 2007|Robert Lloyd | Times Staff Writer

If I may generalize on behalf of everybody who watches television, we choose our shows less for what they're about than for who we get to visit there. A premise may sell a series, but it's only as good as the people who enact it and the characters they play.

If the actor and the role are both good, and well mated, so much the better. But I would probably watch Megyn Price -- who stars in the new sitcom "Rules of Engagement," premiering tonight on CBS -- even in the wrong role. Here, as on her last series, "Grounded for Life," there is something provocative and yet down-to-earth about her.

"When you're single, you're exactly as happy as you are; when you're married, you can only be as happy as the least happy person in the relationship," reads the title card that begins the pilot. This is phony wisdom, but it does for a start. Not even the show's creators take it seriously: Though the humor comes mostly from moments of friction and misunderstanding, "Rules of Engagement" is, on the whole, a brief for the tonic properties of marriage and commitment.

There is nothing especially new or brilliant here: It's another vaguely modern sitcom featuring people who hang out only with one another, whose jobs are obscure. Built around a married couple, a neighboring engaged couple and a single guy, it may be seen as a kinder, gentler, funnier cousin to Fox's bitter " 'Til Death." The jokes are typical War of the Sexes stuff, with the men, as usual, coming off as the dumber, weaker party -- ruled, as they are, by their genitals.

But it is, for all that, a sweet-tempered show, well made and well played, and in addition to Price it has the benefit of Patrick Warburton (still most famously Puddy on "Seinfeld") as Price's husband. The aggressively deadpan Warburton is an actor who as much as any may be accounted a matter of taste, but he is not quite the Johnny One Note his parts can make him seem. The writers have constructed a more or less real person around his particular gifts, and he locks well with Price. His ongoing comic effect is rooted in the fact that he's got the body and the voice of an old-school superhero in a post-superhero world: John Wayne with nothing more to worry about than how much money his wife spends on face cream. ("Eighty-five dollars for that tiny jar? What's in it -- eighty dollars?")

Here is a joke you can see coming six miles away and which, but for the way that Warburton rolls through it, might not have been funny at all:

"Audrey and I, we compromise all the time. Like when we got our first apartment, she wanted to get a cat, and I didn't want to get a cat. So we compromised and got a cat."

Oliver Hudson and Bianca Kalich are the engaged couple -- they've just moved in together, strangers at close quarters. They have charm. David Spade's unattached skirt-chaser rounds out the cast. Spade has never quite been my thing, but like his friends on the show, who also regard him with suspicion, I can tolerate, and sometimes enjoy, his company.

robert.lloyd@latimes.com

*

`Rules of Engagement'

Where: CBS

When: 9:30 tonight

Rating: TV-PG DL (may be unsuitable for young children with advisories or coarse language and suggestive dialogue)

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