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The Stones

While NBC's "Happy Family" tackles empty-nest syndrome from the perspective of parents chafing at grown kids who won't leave, this CBS sitcom reverses the equation -- identifying with kids suddenly grappling with their folks' divorce. Both shows derive minor charms from a well-chosen cast but lack the distinctiveness necessary to stand apart from the crowd.

With:
Barbara Stone - Judith Light Karly Stone - Lindsay Sloane Winston Stone - Jay Baruchel Stan Stone - Robert Klein Audra - Kimberly McCullough

While NBC’s “Happy Family” tackles empty-nest syndrome from the perspective of parents chafing at grown kids who won’t leave, this CBS sitcom reverses the equation — identifying with kids suddenly grappling with their folks’ divorce. Both shows derive minor charms from a well-chosen cast but lack the distinctiveness necessary to stand apart from the crowd. Then again, knowing CBS announced “The Stones” with considerable fanfare and then yanked it from the fall lineup, those associated with the series can at least celebrate it seeing daylight before the Fourth of July.

Viewers might not entirely share that enthusiasm, but they won’t feel compelled to run screaming from the living room either, which hasn’t been a given with this season’s comedies.

Beyond old pros Judith Light and Robert Klein as the squabbling couple, the producers have shrewdly cast Jay Baruchel and Lindsay Sloane as the kids — two pretty good actors who cut their teeth in better if equally canceled comedies, Fox’s “Undeclared” and the WB’s “Grosse Pointe,” respectively.

Baruchel plays an awkward science nerd who fears he’ll suffer “permanent emotional scarring” from the breakup and invites a female colleague to a panel titled, “The twisted world of RNA: One molecule, many functions.” (Hey, it beats the level of discourse normally heard in the last half-hour of “The Bachelorette.”)

The daughter, meanwhile, is a slacker with a penchant for tight-fitting tops that inspire even her mother to make tramp jokes.

Having seen two episodes, it’s still hard to get a firm handle on this show, which comes under the aegis of producers David Kohan and Max Mutchnik, who already have one post-“Will & Grace” disappointment under their belts in “Good Morning, Miami.” (The former’s sister, Jenji Kohan, created “The Stones.”)

The pilot intros the characters and the fact that couple is splitting up, while Klein — reluctant to leave the house — moves into the garage in the second episode. Unfortunately, that’s the kind of living arrangement reasonably upscale suburbanites only agree to when they live in a sitcom world and the producers are too lazy to build a second set.

Everyone is trying to get along, but in that second half-hour the elder Stones transform an exchange of anniversary gifts into a hostile game of one-upmanship. No offense, but if half the population truly wants to see divorced parents bicker, they can turn off the TV and organize supper with mom and dad.

While the series possesses a polished feel thanks to director James Burrows’ steadying hand, the premise is difficult to overcome, especially since the kids’ lives at this point revolve almost entirely around their parents. Granted, that approach has worked well enough for “Everybody Loves Raymond,” but the character interaction here isn’t interesting enough (yet, anyway) to sustain the series within those narrow confines. If either of them have any friends, they’d better drop in soon.

Scheduled to follow “The King of Queens,” which has been surprisingly potent since its move to Wednesdays, “The Stones” finds itself in an interesting position. The drama and reality competition in that hour is fierce — especially with an “American Idol”-powered “The OC” now in the mix — but the CBS sitcom has only “Becker’s” well-worn shoes to fill and has the laugh biz all to itself. Now, if it could just generate a few more of them, everyone could settle in for a nice, long, painful divorce.

The Stones

CBS, Wed. March 17, 9:30 P.M.

Production: Filmed in Los Angeles by KoMut Entertainment in association with Warner Bros. Television. Executive producers, David Kohan, Max Mutchnik, Jenji Kohan; producer, Tim Kaiser; director, James Burrows; writer, Jenji Kohan.

Crew: Camera, Tony Askins; editor, Peter Chakos; music, Jonathan Wolff, Christopher A. Lee; casting, Tracy Lilienfield. 30 MIN.

Cast: Barbara Stone - Judith Light Karly Stone - Lindsay Sloane Winston Stone - Jay Baruchel Stan Stone - Robert Klein Audra - Kimberly McCullough

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