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Published: Saturday, 6/2/2007

Lifetime and CBS debut less-than-stellar programs

Sterling K. Brown, Kim Delaney, center, and Catherine Bell are three of the principal actors in Army Wives. Sterling K. Brown, Kim Delaney, center, and Catherine Bell are three of the principal actors in Army Wives.

First, the good news: Lifetime s Army Wives (10 p.m. tomorrow) is the best drama series the network has developed in ages. It s leaps and bounds above last summer s dreadful Angela s Eyes, but that s not saying much.

That brings us to the not-so-good news: Army Wives introduces a disparate group of potentially interesting characters but fails to do much with them. The obvious, soapy stories plod along at a too-languid pace, leaving talented actors in their wake.

The big-name stars here are Catherine Bell, marking her return to series TV after JAG, and Kim Delaney, still best known for her NYPD Blue role. But they play the most passive, least interesting characters in Army Wives. Newcomers get the flashiest roles.

Single mom bartender Roxy (Sally Pressman) impulsively marries good-guy soldier Trevor (Drew Fuller, Charmed) and finds herself learning the Army way while adjusting to married life. This is the series liveliest couple, and Army Wives sparks to life anytime these two are on screen.

In contrast, Delaney plays upstanding mother hen Claudia Joy Holden, who has an ideal marriage to her colonel husband (Brian McNamara). Claudia Joy (never just Claudia) is close friends with Denise Sherwood (Bell), who harbors a dark secret that doesn t remain a secret long.

Pamela (Brigid Brannagh) also has a secret, one her husband, Chase (Jeremy Davidson, The Kill Point), insists she keep: The twin babies she carries are not their children. Pamela is a paid surrogate, something husband Chase is loath to share with anyone else on post. They need the money because Chase forced Pamela to quit her job so he could provide for them, landing the family deep in debt.

There s also an Army husband, Roland (Sterling K. Brown), a psychiatrist struggling to deal with his lieutenant colonel wife, Joan (Wendy Davis), who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from her recent tour of duty in Afghanistan.

They re all stationed at a South Carolina base alongside a handful of snippy, gossipy wives on hand to make their lives a smidgen more difficult.

In format, Army Wives is reminiscent of the home-front portion of The Unit. Created by relative TV series newcomer Katherine Fugate and based on the book Under the Sabers: The Unwritten Code of Army Wives by Tanya Biank, Army Wives offers an intriguing premise that s bogged down in its execution by uninspired, unimaginative stories.

Remember that animated Saturday Night Live sketch Fun With Real Audio? Robert Smigel takes real audio recordings, then animates something outrageous to go with them. CBS s Creature Comforts (8 p.m. Monday) is sort of like that, but much less outrageous and far too long. The show almost begs viewers to change the channel.

There s no plot, no coherent story. Just a bunch of sound bites culled from real-person interviews and put into the mouths of stop-motion animals created by Nick Park and Aardman Animations Ltd., the folks behind Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

The first thing I remember is her eyes and her facial expression, says one animated bird as his mate rolls around a lazy eye and makes a strange face. This is emblematic of the humor in Creature Comforts. Some of it is funny, some is boring, and some is bound to offend the easily offended.

The premiere episode gets off to an inauspicious start as two people can be heard describing the scent of wine while the animation shows two dogs sniffing the rear end of another dog. CBS s longtime viewers are bound to change the channel right then. Younger viewers will flip at the first commercial.

While some of the sketches organized into themes like secrets and lies, animal magnetism have moments of good humor, they re best viewed in short, YouTube bursts.

Strung together to fill out a half-hour, Creature Comforts quickly wears out its welcome.

This story includes information from the Los Angeles Daily News.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Rob Owen is the TV editor for the Post-Gazette.

Contact him at: rowen@post-gazette.com

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