SURVIVING SUBURBIA. 9:30 tonight, Channel 6.

PARKS AND RECREATION. 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Channel 10.

TELEVISION NEEDS a comedic-stimulus program. Now.

Because it's becoming clearer every day that some networks have lost the will to even try to make us laugh.


they're still yukking it up at CBS, which never got the memo that multi-camera sitcoms were over and keeps making them work.

But ABC is so convinced the format is dead that it's holding a mirror in front of its face tonight with "Surviving Suburbia."

Don't expect much fogging.

In a setup so generic you'd expect to see it at Costco, Abington's Bob Saget, who plays suburbanite Steve Patterson, spends 21 minutes looking as if he smells something bad.

It can't just be the garden.

"I'm back from the nursery," he announces in one scene. "I bought so much fertilizer, I think I'm on a terrorist watch list."

His wife, Anne (Cynthia Stevenson), who's used to his dispirited wisecracks, isn't above a few of her own, as in: "The whole neighborhood thinks you're a grumpy old man. And the only defense I can give is that you're not old."

Scheduled to lure unsuspecting fans of "Dancing with the Stars," or to find out how many people have lost their remotes, "Surviving Suburbia" starts out weak and declines rapidly.

If it makes it - and in this time slot, anything's possible - it won't so much prove comedy's alive as that the audience isn't.

There's a different kind of experiment going on at NBC, which on Thursday will unveil "Parks and Recreation," a show that takes two of the network's greatest strengths - former "Saturday Night Live" star Amy Poehler and the producers of "The Office" - and leaves them both a little weaker.

Offspring of a marriage arranged by NBC honcho Ben Silverman, who helped bring "The Office" to America, "Parks and Recreation," which was created by Greg Daniels and Michael Schur, is another mockumentary, set in a different office.

Poehler plays Leslie Knope, deputy director of the parks department in Pawnee, Ind. A bureaucrat infused with a clueless, Michael Scott-like optimism, she's the kind of person who reacts to the public's criticism by explaining that "what I hear when I'm being yelled at is people caring loudly at me."

Can't you just hear Steve Carell saying that?

Leslie maintains a crush on city planner Mark Brendanawicz (Paul Schneider), who barely remembers that they once slept together, and isn't any more in touch with the feelings of other colleagues. Tom (Aziz Ansari) alternately humors her and mocks her, while boss Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), who's out to dismantle government from the inside, is oblivious to her.

"Office" veteran Rashida Jones turns up as a Pawnee resident who just wants a big hole filled in but will apparently be hanging around.

So what's the problem, other than the deja vu format?

"Baby Mama" notwithstanding, Poehler's funny because she's a smart blonde, not a dumb one. Here, she's reduced to one of TV's default settings.

Taken scene by scene, "Parks and Recreation" elicited some smiles, even if none progressed beyond mild chuckle. And it's worth remembering that the U.S. version of "The Office" took some time to find its feet.

Still, for now, the whole enterprise feels like a waste of too many people's time, including ours.

'Rescue Me' returns

For every reader who's asked in the past year when FX would be bringing back "Rescue Me," this one's for you.

After a longer wait than usual - the Season 4 finale aired in September 2007 - "Rescue Me" returns at 10 p.m. tomorrow.

And while I stopped being a fan some time ago, I can say that at least one of the things that I've always liked about the post-9/11 firefighter dramedy is more in evidence in the three Season 5 episodes I've watched.

The guys are once again spending a lot of time with each other, especially in the firehouse, limiting the amount of time they can spend apart, annoying women.

Still, this remains Denis Leary's show, so you can expect beautiful women to continue to fall at the feet of Tommy Gavin.

Alcoholic, misogynistic and just about every other "ic" - and ick - there is, Tommy already has a bitter ex-wife (Andrea Roth), a borderline insane ex-lover (Callie Thorne) and a current live-in (Gina Gershon), and he's about to attract the attention of a beautiful French writer ("The L Word's" Karina Lombard).

Putting him in his place, for a few episodes, at least, will be Michael J. Fox, as Tommy's ex-wife's obnoxious new boyfriend.

And in a development that's bound to raise some eyebrows, the show's going to be exploring - or at least repeating - cast member Daniel Sunjata's contention that the Sept. 11 attacks were, as his character, Franco, puts it next week, "an inside job." *

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