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''How I Met,'' ''Studio 60,'' ''Two and a Half,'' ''Big Day''

By RD Heldenfels Published: November 28, 2006

Last night was one of those where the things we know off-camera affect what we see on camera. How many times did the guys on ''Studio 60'' have to use the word ''pregnant'' before you began to think, oh, yeah, Amanda Peet? How much did you ponder Neil Patrick Harris's recent coming out while watching ''How I Met Your Mother's'' riffing on acceptance -- only making the riff about Barney's disaste for marriage instead of the usual topic?

Still, ''How I Met'' was pretty funny, especially with Wayne Brady's spot-on Barneyness. And maybe I missed an earlier reference to it, but what does it tell us about the third season that Marshall and Lily were married in that flash-forward?

''Studio 60,'' meanwhile, by the week becomes more of a giant, lumbering beast of a show, one that can't even carry the weight it creates for itself. We go through this whole business about getting the remaining writers to write, to the point that they're supposed to be included in writing the replacement sketch (''Spit Take Theater,'' eh?) -- only, as far as I can tell, they weren't. Matt's idea saves the day.

(And my buddy Alan Sepinwall saved me a nagging headache this morning by knowing where the duck-joke bit had come from; it's in ''My Favorite Year.'')

I keep watching this because it had possibilities in the very early going, and because Sorkin has had moments of greatness in other things, and because some people are so passionate about it that I want to be able to talk to them in detail -- if only about the reasons I dislike the show. But I was reading a line from Robert Christgau this morning that gets closer both to why I watch and why I am so unhappy doing so than anything I have been able to come up with on my own.

Reviewing a Jane Siberry album, Christgau said, ''Interesting music is the perfect cover for mediocre literature.'' And I thought, yeah, that's ''Studio 60'' before I even made the precise parallel. Which boils down to, ''Studio 60'' is so wrapped up in seeming smart (''Look Back in Anger'') that it offers you an excuse to ignore how stupid it can be (Sarah Paulson can't tell a joke, which is just Sorkin's latest woman-as-ninny bit).

''Two and a Half Men'' continues to be the dirtiest show on network television. (One incontrovertible piece of evidence: The Abraham Lincoln joke.) No fear of the FCC around that place. And still a funny show; good to see Conchata Ferrell moved closer to center stage for a change.

''Big Day'' premieres tonight on ABC. It's the comedy about a couple getting married, with the wedding day spread across an entire season. It has some people who know how to do funny, including Wendie Malick and Miriam Shor. It works very hard at being funny, jamming jokes, showing off lots of quirks in the characters, trying to keep everything moving. But I don't want to see the sweat in a comedy; I don't want to be impressed by the work ethic; I want to laugh. This show is not as successful by that measure. It has a basic premise that drives everything -- stuff goes wrong on a wedding day -- and then, tick tock, one thing after another goes wrong. I don't want to hear the tick-tock in a comedy either.

And, wow, let me tell you how good it felt to write this. Nice to spend some time really thinking about TV.

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