Cartoon sidesteps genre's growing pains

Sometimes low expectations can work in your favor. And I wasn't expecting much from "Baby Blues" (7 p.m., WB, TV-PG, D, L), a new animated series from the WB network debuting in back-to-back installments. Lately, just those two words, "WB" and "animated" are enough to make this TV critic want to take up a new career. The WB has been in a deep rut since "Felicity," churning out one plastic teen drama after another. And never has so much video, celluloid, or whatever, gone to waste in such an unfunny fashion as with the recent batch of bad network cartoons, including "Mission Hill," "Family Guy" and "Clerks."

In addition to my well-deserved predisposition towards the network and the genre, I couldn't help but notice that "Baby Blues" features the voices of Mike O'Malley and Julia Sweeney in the lead roles. Most of you have mercifully forgotten "The Mike O'Malley Show," the half-hour comedy that earned the dubious distinction of being the first show canceled this dismal TV season. And Ms. Sweeney has never quite lived down her role in the movie, "It's Pat," quite possibly the worst-reviewed and least successful "Saturday Night Live" spin-off movie.

So with all of this going against it, and the fact that "Baby Blues" is being launched during the languid dog-day doldrums of knee-deep summer, I have to admit that it's not half as bad as I had every right to expect it would be. Not bad at all.

Based on a popular syndicated comic strip of the same name, "Blues" takes place in one of the world's most dangerous and surreal hot spots: the domestic life of a married couple with a new baby. Darryl (O'Malley) and Wanda (Sweeney) face the prospect of their bundle of joy with very different attitudes. Darryl decides that being a father means becoming a dad in all the most judgmental, condescending and overprotective ways. When he gives Wanda the keys to a beige minivan for her birthday, she breaks down in tears and goes on a tear with their teen-age baby sitter Bizzy (Nicole Sullivan, "Mad TV"). Tossing responsibility aside, she joins Bizzy and her pack of stereotypical slacker dude and dudette friends for a night of mischief.

Whimsical and farfetched in all of the ways animation allows, "Blues" does a funny job of exploring gender roles and expectations. It also deserves a blue ribbon for avoiding the pop cultural references that have cluttered up so many cartoons of late. So when Drew Carey (as himself) shows up at the end of Episode One to dispense avuncular wisdom, it's a genuinely surprising and funny experience. "Blues" is hardly perfect. But as a slightly silly, slightly sweet summer series that's not afraid to show it has a heart.

Other highlights

  • Armchair he-men and he-women can catch some chainsaw action, rifle competition and the fly-casting finals as "The Great Outdoor Games" continues (7 p.m., ESPN).
  • Most Elvis movies feature forgettable cornball scripts, but the 1961 drama, "Wild in the Country" (7 p.m., AMC, TV-G) was written by Clifford Odets with the King as a would-be writer. Hope Lange and Tuesday Weld co-star.
  • Catherine Zeta Jones and Sean Connery star in the 1999 cat-and-mouse thriller, "Entrapment" (7:30 p.m., HBO).
  • Scheduled on "Dateline" (8 p.m., NBC): how hate groups use the Internet to recruit new members.
  • The hunt for Internet predators on a repeat of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (9 p.m., NBC, TV-14).

Series notes

Sequestered on "Big Brother" (7 p.m., CBS) " Married against her family's wishes, a woman faces a difficult pregnancy on "Providence" (7 p.m., NBC, TV-PG) " The incredible contents of one teen-ager's stomach on "Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction?" (7 p.m., Fox, TV-PG, S, V) " The perils of a secret Valentine on "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch" (7 p.m., ABC, TV-G) " Violent counterfeiters target Vanessa on "The Strip" (7 p.m., UPN, TV-PG, D, L, V).

Richard Lewis poses as a guidance counselor on "Candid Camera" (7:30 p.m., CBS, TV-PG) " Eric feels left out on "Boy Meets World" (7:30 p.m. ABC, TV-PG, V).

Undercover in a coven on "JAG" (8 p.m., CBS, TV-PG, D) " Jerry Springer hosts "Now or Never" (8 p.m., Fox) " On back-to-back episodes of "Making the Band" (ABC), tricks of the trade (8 p.m., TV-PG, L), and live at the House of Blues (8:30 p.m., TV-PG) " A femme fatale erases Monk's hard drive on "Secret Agent Man" (8 p.m., UPN, TV-PG) " A beautiful new student arrives on "Young Americans" (8 p.m., WB, TV-14, D, L).

Nash and Joe witness a hit intended for Nash on "Nash Bridges" (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14, D, L).

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