It's been just over a year since this weightless ABC comedy finished its third season, and its return is about as shrill and inconsequential as a sitcom gets. In a strange sense, this might be one of those instances where Disney punched up a fourth season for business reasons, since there's no compelling creative rationale for extending the lease on a series that labors this hard at living down to its title.

It’s been just over a year since this weightless ABC comedy finished its third season, and its return is about as shrill and inconsequential as a sitcom gets. In a strange sense, this might be one of those instances where Disney, as the program’s network (ABC) and producer (Touchstone), punched up a fourth season for business reasons, since there’s no compelling creative rationale for extending the lease on a series that labors this hard at living down to its title.

Eric Roberts, the show’s self-obsessed anchorman of years past, has departed during the hiatus, ostensibly opening some new narrative possibilities. That’s because his former assistant, Claude (Sara Rue), returns from vacation to learn that Will (Roberts) has been ousted, with Jeb Denton (Patrick Warburton) becoming the newsroom’s new anchor and his scheming wife, Lydia (Andrea Parker), the broadcast’s associate producer.

Whether Claude can survive working for Lydia is anybody’s guess, but she’s pretty clear that she doesn’t want to step back into the bowels of the building, despite the bond she shares with pals Ramona (Sherri Shepherd), Owen (Andy Dick) and Carl (Will Sasso), who runs the cafeteria.

Beyond Claude, there’s not a character here that isn’t so broad as to be off-putting, beginning with Parker’s career-driven shrew and Zachary Levi as Jeb’s sniveling, ambitious assistant.

As a sure sign of creative stagnation, an ongoing gag in one of the new episodes previewed hinges on Owen being lactose-intolerant but compulsively wolfing down frozen yogurt, causing his stomach to rumble like Mt. Sinai when Moses visited.

Nor does it help, frankly, that a slimmed-down Rue is considerably more perfect, in the shallowest sense, than she somewhat endearingly was when the show made its debut.

“Less Than Perfect” is also one of those programs peripherally about TV (in this case, broadcast news) that exhibits scant knowledge about how the business actually works, beginning with the clout wielded by an “associate producer.” Even as a mere backdrop for a workplace comedy, almost every TV-related reference rings distractingly hollow.

After a promising start with the relocated “Commander in Chief,” ABC has been inhaling Fox’s fumes on Tuesdays, meaning the climate isn’t exactly hospitable for “Perfect’s” landing. Although Disney can derive some satisfaction from persevering to amass roughly 80 episodes for the yawning eternity of syndication, the show’s spring fling is a prime example of “Less” really being less.

Less Than Perfect

ABC, Tue. April 18, 9:30 p.m.

Production

Filmed in Los Angeles by Wass/Stein Prods. in association with Touchstone Television. Executive producers, Nina Wass, Eugene Stein, Christine Zander; co-executive producers, Rob LaZebnik, J.J. Wall, Claudia Lonow; producer, Dionne Kirschner; co-producer, Trevor Kirschner; director, Ted Wass; writer, Zander.

Crew

Camera, Jim Roberson; production design, Michael Hynes; editor, Skip Collector; music, Paul Buckley; casting, Jill Anthony, Beth Soike. Running time: 30 MIN.

Cast

Claude Casey - Sara Rue Ramona Platt - Sherri Shepherd Lydia Weston - Andrea Parker Kipp Steadman - Zachary Levi Carl Monari - Will Sasso Jeb Denton - Patrick Warburton Owen Kronsky - Andy Dick

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