In the Motherhood (Thursday, 7 p.m., ABC) is the rare sitcom that "gets" the way we live now. Gets it - and skewers it mercilessly. The subject is modern mothers and modern attitudes. Jane (Cheryl Hines) is recently divorced, trying to balance career, dating and child-rearing with the help of an earnest male nanny (Horatio Sanz). She fails spectacularly in contrast to her sister (Jessica St. Clair), who strives to live by the perfect politically correct rules with her own family. Then there's Rosemary (Megan Mullally), who lives by no rules. She's a wickedly self-centered wiseass with no use for the values we currently hold dear.
If you lack a sense of humor about "enlightened" parenting, environmental awareness, organic food and enforced sexual-harassment training on the job, stay far away from In the Motherhood. The rest of us are in for a treat.
Friday, 9:30 pm (Starz)
Another premium network tries to match HBO's half-hour comedies of humiliation, like Curb Your Enthusiasm and Extras. All the ingredients are there - the low-key ensemble, the casual profanity, the awkward scenarios - but the soufflé fails to rise.
Ron (Ken Marino) is the team leader of a catering crew, one of those fools who don't perceive how foolish they are. He makes jokes that aren't funny, but he thinks they are; and we're supposed to think that's funny. Would you be surprised to learn that this strategy doesn't result in high comedy?
Ron works with a group of losers, including an untalented writer obsessed with a screenplay about wormholes. Sad to say, but the wormhole project might be more entertaining than Party Down.
The Penguins of Madagascar
Saturday, 8:30 pm (Nickelodeon)
The penguins were the breakout stars of the animated film Madagascar. Denizens of the Central Park Zoo, the four comic fowl believe they're an elite strike force, perpetually on a dangerous mission. Their supposedly deadly commando skills contrast with their round bellies and short, awkward wings.
The act doesn't translate in this new series, which saddles the penguins with standard bad-TV-cartoon scripts. Still, I'll tune in now and then just for the pleasure of seeing their killer kung fu poses.
Sunday, 9 pm (Animal Planet)
This series uses horror tactics to spice up an otherwise dry report on aquatic vertebrae. The first episode sticks the camera into the jaws of the piranha, "the most ferocious fish in the world." The British narrator delights in the piranha's "razor-sharp teeth" and supposed penchant for "stripping a body of its flesh in minutes." The screen fills with turbulent red water, accompanied by spooky sound effects.
River Monsters would probably feel much less urgent if the narrator revealed a very simple way of avoiding a piranha attack: stepping out of the water.
Monday, 8:30 pm (ABC)
I've complained about new sitcoms that try to distinguish themselves with a gimmick, but I can't make that complaint about Surviving Suburbia. It's 100% generic, starting with the title. Bob Saget, that standard-issue sitcom star, plays the curmudgeonly dad with the put-upon wife. We get the wacky neighbor, the cute kid and the laugh track.
"Fish are terrible pets," Saget whines to peals of fake laughter. "They smell like...fish!"
I hate to say this, but Surviving Suburbia could use a gimmick.
Wednesday, 9:30 pm (Comedy Central)
The hilarious COPS parody begins a new season, and watching it is the surest way to cheer yourself up during a recession. The hapless officers in the Reno Sheriff's Department plan undercover stings with names like Operation Cobra Fist, realizing only later that "cobras don't have hands." They have morning briefings that set a dubious tone for the day. "Let's not all go running out of the building when we hear the ice cream truck," says Lt. Dangle (Thomas Lennon). "It doesn't look right."
Reno 911 is the quintessence of deadpan humor-that is, until it goes wildly over the top, as when a crackhead flees officers while wearing a cow suit. In my opinion, the show is...
...wait a minute, I think I hear the ice cream truck. Gotta run.