Everybody loves a wedding, but not everybody is going to love David E. Kelley's uneven

The Wedding Bells,

premiering tonight at 9, right after

American Idol.

(If you were Fox, would you ever premiere anything at any other time?)

The comedy/drama, very loosely based on the Long Island "wedding factory" called Leonard's, can inspire outright laughs, as when a mother drenches her face in Visine to appear to be crying at her daughter's nuptials, or when Ernesto, the free-spirited chef-artiste, decides some shrimp might liven up the marinara at the Epstein wedding.

It isn't kosher shrimp.

"They called the Anti-Defamation League and reported it as a hate crime," says one of the wedding planners.

Delta Burke plays the mother, and Costas Mandelor is the lothario chef, and neither is among the show's seven regular characters.

And there's the problem. Only two members of the core cast appear even slightly interesting. The other five, including the three sisters who own the business, Annie, Jane and Sammy Bell (thus, the title) are bland stereotypes. Annie (KaDee Strickland) has closed down emotionally, Jane's (Teri Polo) marriage has become mechanical, and Sammy (Sarah Jones) seems to sleep with at least one usher per wedding.

Now, the show does come from one of TV's distinguished writers, and it's possible, if given the chance, that the gals will take wing and carry to the celestial level of Boston Legal, Kelley's other current show.

But Strickland, Polo and Jones are not exactly Candice Bergen, James Spader and William Shatner, even if Strickland did graduate from the University of the Arts and Polo has been in a million shows from Northern Exposure to The West Wing.

Can The Wedding Bells thrive without solid lead characters? Perhaps. The opportunities for absurd wedding situations (in maid-of-honor dresses alone) are endless, and Kelley has become a master of the absurd.

Tonight, sisters Heather and Nicholle Tom play bosomy, brain-dead blonde twins who are like kids at Christmas, up much too early and horning in all over the place at the Bell sisters' Wedding Palace, even though their wedding is a week away.

Another prospective bride jiggles her floppy triceps, moaning that her mother will make her put sleeves on her wedding dress.

"You could totally have that so done," one of the twins advises, focusing on the flab.

Kelley may already have fired his biggest-caliber guest-star bullet with Burke, who has evolved into a comic treasure, as the mother of tonight's shrewish bride, but Missi Pyle, the bride herself, a meaner and more tightly wound version of Marcia Cross' Bree Van De Kamp on Desperate Housewives, will be joining the wedding company full time next week.

As Amanda Pontell, Pyle (recently seen as the showgirl who conned Ando on Heroes) may just be shrill and uncompromising enough to inject some sizzle into the business, and things could get explosive if veteran fireball Sherri Shepherd works her way into the permanent cast, as many recurring Kelley characters do, as the no-nonsense assistant.

Two of the male regulars, Jane's schlub husband (Benjamin King) and Ralph Snow, the wedding singer (Chris Williams), could use the boost. Michael Landes, on the other hand, is so fascinating and smoking-hot as the photographer, that the show is guaranteed at least a reasonable female audience no matter what happens.

After its post-Idol send-off, The Wedding Bells moves to Fridays at 9, when nobody watches Fox anyway. That means it should have time to grow. Like many an arranged marriage, awkward at first, it could blossom.

At a wedding, after all, optimism rules.

Jonathan Storm |

TV Review

The Wedding Bells

Debuts tonight at 9 on Fox29.