The Boys Fri. Aug. 20, 9 p.m., Cbs

It remains to be seen just how far you can go with a comedy involving a young writer and three older, in-a-rut neighbors who take him into their weekly gatherings. The fragile first chapter, with a hyped-up laugh backing, has its moments, but "The Boys" rides on thin stuff.

With:
Cast: Chris Meloni, Richard Venture, John Harkins, Isabella Hoffmann, Doris Roberts, Ned Beatty, Melissa Clayton, Robert Sheely, Cleto Augusto.

It remains to be seen just how far you can go with a comedy involving a young writer and three older, in-a-rut neighbors who take him into their weekly gatherings. The fragile first chapter, with a hyped-up laugh backing, has its moments, but “The Boys” rides on thin stuff.

Successful first-novelist Doug (Chris Meloni), who’s moved to the country with girlfriend Molly (Isabella Hoffmann), finds he needs a diversion to get back to writing. Invited by neighbor Doris (Doris Roberts) to join her grumpy husband, Bert (Ned Beatty), and his sometimes-silly cronies Al (Richard Venture) and Harlan (John Harkins) at their weekly joyless activities, Doug finds out he’s a fill-in for their dead buddy Ed.

Best when it edges into dark humor — there’s a line about a kid and a burning building that’s bravely and wittily sour –“Boys” feeds on knowing the people and on surprise retorts. Writer Dan O’Shan-non, never crowding his story, lets it unfold through sly exchanges and character development.

How well viewers will take to the quirks of the elders and to Doug’s reactions remains to be seen. Meloni offers a pleasantly understated presence, and Beatty, Venture and Harkins establish distinct personalities under Terry Hughes’ sharp direction. Roberts is splendid, and Hoffman, so far straight woman for the program, is fine.

The Boys Fri. Aug. 20, 9 p.m., Cbs

Production: Taped at Sunset-Gower Studios by Hughes O'Shannon Prods., CBS Entertainment Prods. and Twentieth Fox TV. Exec producers, Terry Hughes, Dan O'Shannon; supervising producer, Clay Graham; producer, Nancy Haas; director, Hughes; writer, O'Shannon.

Crew: Editor, Ken Tintorri; production designer, Ed Stephenson; sound, Doug Botnick; music, Jonathan Wolff. 30 MIN.

With: Cast: Chris Meloni, Richard Venture, John Harkins, Isabella Hoffmann, Doris Roberts, Ned Beatty, Melissa Clayton, Robert Sheely, Cleto Augusto.

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