NOTES FROM THE UNDERBELLY. 10 tonight, Channel 6. Moves to 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays next week.

IF THERE'S A law of chick-lit, other than the one that decrees that Mr. Darcy is always going to be hotter than Mr. Bingley, it's this: Chicks rule.

Jane Austen knew this, which is probably one reason that you never saw her concerning herself with what men talked about when women weren't around.

So it's puzzling that ABC's "Notes from the Underbelly," which launches tonight, six months after its due date, has a male narrator.

Based on Risa Green's novel of the same name - a first-person narrative by a private-school college counselor who experiences pregnancy as a series of personal insults - "Notes" approaches the subject from the point of view of her husband Andrew (Peter Cambor), who's about to start pressuring her into having his baby.

"I love my wife," he tells us in the show's opening minutes as he looks at a parking ticket he considers her fault. "She's a huge pain in the a- -. But I love her."

Truth is, Lauren (Jennifer Westfeldt of "Kissing Jessica Stein" fame) is a huge pain in the patootie.

You may or may not love her.

A year ago, ABC did, which is why "Notes from the Underbelly" was on the fall schedule, snuggled up with wedding comedy "Big Day" on Thursdays.

But then ABC decided it loved "Ugly Betty" better, and put that on Thursdays. "Big Day" proved to be Not So Big, and here we are in April, with leftovers.

The kicks weren't over for the "Underbelly," though, because when Fox's "American Idol" decided to stretch this week's results show to an hour, ABC moved the launch to tonight, with back-to-back episodes.

Next week, "Notes" moves to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, after "According to Jim."

So how bad is "Notes from the Underbelly," considering the way it's been treated?

Not that bad, actually.

But not that good, either.

Telling parts of the story from Andrew's point of view softens a character who might otherwise have bordered on unsympathetic. But it also makes "Notes" feel like a number of other sitcoms about couples who hail from Mars and Venus, respectively, and adds little to the discussion beyond stretch marks.

Which Lauren probably won't permit, anyway.

A Sunday 'Drive'

"Notes from the Underbelly" isn't the only show bouncing from time slot to time slot.

You might need a road map to keep up with Fox's "Drive," which is having a two-hour premiere on Sunday (8 p.m., Channel 29) before parking itself in the "Prison Break" slot at 8 p.m. Mondays.

Call it "Lost" as a road race, or "The Amazing Race" as a conspiratorial drama - it doesn't really matter. The concept's dead simple: An indeterminate number of strangers are participating in a secret, illegal cross-country road race that's apparently been going on for decades. The prize is $32 million, but some of the participants were coerced and aren't necessarily in it for the money.

I was more attracted by the presence of Nathan Fillion ("Firefly"), who plays a guy whose wife has disappeared, and co-creator Tim Minear, whose credits include "Wonderfalls," "Firefly" and "Angel," than by the computer process that allows the actors to do most of their "driving" with green-screen technology.

The first hour left me a bit cold, but the second, which arrived yesterday, filled in enough of the blanks to take me as far as Monday.

Or maybe even as far as Ohio.

No pain, no gain

"Painkiller Jane" makes the transition from comic-book page to TV series (10 p.m. tomorrow, Sci Fi Channel) in a pilot episode that shows just how tricky that transition can be.

The latest in a long line of cool blonde TV heroines, Jane Vasko (Kristanna Loken) falls somewhere between "La Femme Nikita" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" on the cool continuum but can't begin to touch "Buffy's" humor, much less its character development.

In this incarnation - she's already been in a TV movie - Jane's not entirely sure how she got to be indestructible, but something's up with her DNA, and like the cheerleader in "Heroes," she can take a fall. Or a bullet. Or just about anything anyone can throw at her.

No one comes by that sort of thing without a price, though, and Jane's seems to be that she must participate in a rather dreary (and, of course, top-secret) project to round up other talented mutants and disable their mind-control abilities, ours being a species that apparently refuses to evolve.

No, they're not ripping off "Heroes" - "Jane" was there first - but looking at the two shows side by side demonstrates how much execution matters to even the most promising concept.

Jane may be indestructible, but it's going to take more than that to bring her to life. *

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