In the interest of truth in labeling, ABC’s “Romantically Challenged” should rightfully be titled “Comedically Challenged.” The allure of watching Alyssa Milano in this four-character ensemble sitcom provides small compensation for a litany of tired, warmed-over sex jokes. It will take considerable fancy footwork from a “Dancing With the Stars” lead-in to conquer this challenge.
ABC initially scheduled the fourth episode as the premiere, then made a last-minute scheduling switch to start with the pilot. This is a welcome development, if only because the fourth episode was so bad, it caused the mind to wander regarding how poor the first three must have been.
Based on what’s been provided in advance, Milano’s Rebecca is newly divorced and testing the dating waters again after a 15-year marriage. Functioning as de facto guides for this unmarried woman are her sister Lisa (Kelly Stables, who had a recurring stint on “Two and a Half Men”) and pals Perry (“Worst Week’s” Kyle Bornheimer) and Shawn (Josh Lawson).
In the episode previewed (which is not the premiere), the four receive roughly equal screen time, with a subplot involving the discomfort felt by Shawn — a wannabe writer living rent-free with Perry — over how financial inequality shapes their interaction. This triggers a string of prison rape jokes, and really, you can never have enough of those.
Indeed, despite the presence of sitcom director supreme James Burrows, “Challenged” is almost painfully on-the-nose with most of its gags — repeating the few decent ones as if the audience might have somehow missed them. (The showrunner is Ricky Blitt, whose credits include “Family Guy,” which is actually less of a cartoon than this is.)
Renowned for her sex appeal, Milano certainly looks terrific as the single mom, but she’s adrift in a weightless vehicle. All told, it’s as if “Will and Grace” sired a straight, particularly unfunny child with “It’s Like, You Know … ”
While 90 minutes of “Dancing” should funnel scads of female viewers in the show’s direction, a last-minute postponement of the premiere and the belated substitution of the pilot, while logical, only appear to be prolonging the inevitable.
Rebecca’s confusion about dating is summed up near the end of the previewed episode when she says, “That’s how you scare a guy away.” And viewers, too.