"Brothers," which premieres tonight on Fox, is unusual in a few respects. One of its stars, Daryl "Chill" Mitchell, uses a wheelchair; another, Michael Strahan, was still a professional football player in 2008. It asks Carl Weathers -- Apollo Creed in all those "Rocky" films -- and CCH Pounder, from "The Shield" and many other things, to play comedy. And, perhaps most remarkable, in a new season that seems even more than usually rife with white people, all these actors are black. (Fox has the only other new prime-time series about African Americans -- the "Family Guy" spinoff "The Cleveland Show" -- and even there, the actor who voices the title role is white.)
In most other respects, it is a standard three-camera sitcom, in which two bickering siblings in their mid-30s (Mitchell and Strahan) find themselves back living with their parents (Weathers and Pounder). Which is not to call it run-of-the-mill -- it has some charm and personality and keeps its focus unusually tight on the four principals. There are no wacky neighbors drifting in, or distracting workplace subplots. (Mitchell's character, who is called Chill, owns a restaurant, but it's just another place for him to go at Strahan, who is called Mike.)
Creator Don Reo has had a long career in situation comedy, running back to "MASH" and "Rhoda"; he created the great "The John Laroquette Show," which featured Mitchell, co-created Damon Wayans' "My Wife and Kids" and was an executive producer on "Everybody Hates Chris." And so the show rides comfortably above a baseline of sitcom competence. And the second episode, which immediately follows the pilot tonight, improves encouragingly on the first.
Once you factor out the pilot's worst tics -- the old-folks-getting-busy-while-the-kids-are-out jokes, Weathers' recurring observations on men shaving their pubic hair, and jokes about the gap in Strahan's teeth -- there is much to like; the family dynamic is both spiky and affectionate, without being absurdly dysfunctional or overly sentimental. Pounder is grand in a sweet way, and Weathers (another former football player, here playing a coach) is sweet in a grand way. The second episode also dials down the pilot's portrayal of Weathers as being in what I guess is supposed to be the early stages of dementia; he merely forgets his anniversary, which is situation No. 432 in the TV Comedy Playbook.
Strahan -- who plays a former football player who has lost all his money to a crooked business manager -- is fine, and gets laughs, though he is being carried to a great extent by his cast mates; a whole show peopled only with actors at his skill level would work only as "conceptual" comedy. As the returning son, he is what would traditionally be considered the lead, but comedy-wise, Mitchell (also of "Galaxy Quest," "Veronica's Closet" and "Ed," his first job after losing the use of his legs in a 2001 motorcycle accident) is the dominant brother.
There are, of course, a lot of wheelchair jokes (e.g., "You should put some baseball cards in those spokes so I can hear you coming"). But this is not a show about being disabled. "He's not 'in' a chair," Pounder says of Mitchell. "When you're 'in' something, it's around you and it controls you -- you're 'in' the ocean; you're 'in' quicksand, you're 'in' the Republican Party." Still, she stabs him in the leg with a fork every so often, just testing.
When: 8 tonight
Rating: TV-14-DLS (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language and sex)