'Rodney' takes ABC back to its blue-collar-comedy roots

A decade after it dominated the dial with "Roseanne," "Grace Under Fire" and "Home Improvement," ABC returns to its blue-collar-comedy roots with "Rodney" (8:30 p.m., ABC). How's this for high-concept? "Rodney" stars stand-up comic Rodney Harrington as a Tulsa, Okla., father and husband named Rodney who quits his factory job to pursue his dream of becoming - of all things - a stand-up comic. Remember when "acting" used to mean playing characters other than yourself?

As comedy characters go, Rodney has considerable charm, even if he is surrounded by less-than-fully-developed supporting types. As he explains in a comic voiceover, he always dreamed of being a comic and did plenty of stand-up at the local bar, but that was before marriage and a couple of surprise pregnancies that resulted in two cute sons with no distinguishable personalities.

In the pilot, Rodney informs his wife, Trina (Jennifer Aspen), that he's quit his job at the insulation factory to pursue his comedy dream. She flips out and tells him nobody from Oklahoma ever made it in show business. This saddens Rodney and reveals Trina's peculiar ignorance of Garth Brooks. Rodney's new unemployed status gives Trina's dad, Carl (recurring guest star Mac Davis), plenty of excuses to lord over him and call him a loser.

"Rodney" frequently trades in cheap jokes and stereotypes, like a local-yokel bartender who uses bug repellant as aftershave, a naked run through a super-center parking lot, and a man-hungry in-law only a few notes removed from "Hee Haw." And if comedy is Rodney's biggest passion, how come we never see him perform his stand-up act?

  • Summer is officially over, and so are the summer reality series. Three culminate tonight. As "Amish in the City" (8 p.m., UPN) wraps up, we'll discover whether any of the Amish will stray from their religious background to live in the secular world. I know Mose would be miserable off the farm, but if he ever abandons the home team he'd make great talk-show host.

Given their dominance of the game, it appears that Colin and Christie are the odds-on favorites to win all the marbles on the two-hour conclusion of "The Amazing Race 5" (8 p.m., CBS). Their victory, coming a year after the triumph of the obnoxious Chip and Reichen, will prove that the arrogant really do inherit the Earth. The torture also ends on "Big Brother 5" (7 p.m., CBS).

Tonight's other highlights

  • Lorelai is disappointed in Rory's choice of lovers on "Gilmore Girls" (7 p.m., WB).
  • A sudden kidnapping and confusing genetic evidence roil a custody case on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (9 p.m., NBC).
  • A sicko stalks Sipowicz on the 11th (and final) season premiere of "NYPD Blue" (9 p.m., ABC).

Late night

Dr. Phil McGraw and Gary Sinise appear on "Late Show with David Letterman" (10:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jay Leno hosts John Travolta, Drea DeMatteo and The Thrills on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC) ... Jeff Foxworthy, Matthew Fox and 8 Ball & MJG appear on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (11:05 p.m., ABC).

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