TV REVIEW: 'Wedding Bells' rings false

On Monday, I ranted about people who gripe that TV is bad. My point then: TV is lots of things, and some is even great. Today, we've got a new series that does not help my case.

That would be Fox's "The Wedding Bells," and it shows exactly everything that can go wrong with a TV series.

It's not that "The Wedding Bells," premiering Wednesday, March 7, is awful. It's just thoroughly, resolutely, not good.

Just about every piece of it is not good - the weak comedy, the forced "wackiness," the flimsy characters, the campy music scenes, even the basic premise. Again, not horribly bad, just none of it works.

The series is from David E. Kelley, Emmy winner for "The Practice" and "Ally McBeal," and creator of the current solid series "Boston Legal." But everyone whiffs sometimes.

It's the story of three sisters who are wedding planners and named Bell. Get it? Wedding Bells? It's all like that. They inherited the Wedding Palace, a business and actual building, from their parents, and strike one right off is, who, outside of drunk Las Vegas tourists, dreams of getting married in a wedding factory, even if it has a nice driveway?

Still, Kelley and company say it's a fantasy spot. Whatever. Then there are the cliché-ridden brides.

One bolts from her ceremony, a pair of ditzy twins act like Playboy castoffs, and, in the main story tonight, there's a bride who's very mean and even more self-involved. Not exactly a blow for stereotype busting. Or, more to the point, for not being lame.

It's Kelley at his worst - and, to be fair, Kelley at his best can be very good. Here, everything is overly quirky and madcap, and the tone is artificial and strained. When Kelley is on his game, he earns the quirkiness by first creating characters and stories that resonate, then drops in the "wacky" (think "Boston Legal" or "Ally McBeal," the early years).

But in "The Wedding Bells," the sisters (KaDee Strickland, Teri Polo and Sarah Jones) are thinly drawn, uninteresting people. They say things like "Don't be afraid to feel."

And the allegedly fun characters are just weak. "I'm the mother of the bride. I'm an acquired taste," says one, whenever she introduces herself. But she's wrong. There's no acquiring a taste for any of this.

The whole mess is a series of retread themes, uninspired gags and badly fitting pieces. For anyone making the TV-hater claim, "The Wedding Bells" is Exhibit A.

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Fox can handle the likely flameout on "The Wedding Bells," in case you were worried, because the network seems to have a hit on its hands with the cheery little game show, "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?"

The show's first airing last week drew 26.5 million viewers, the best ratings for a series debut ever on Fox. And after three days straight, it still drew about 23.5 million viewers by its third episode on Thursday.

It surely got a boost from appearing after mega-hit "American Idol" all last week, and will get that help again on Thursday (at 9 p.m. EST/PST). But Fox showed confidence that "5th Grader" will hold up on its own by extending the show's Thursday-night run through April 19. Starting next week, "Idol" airs just Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

If you haven't seen it, the game gives grown-ups a series of questions that came from first- to- sixth-grade textbooks, watches the contestants squirm, and lets them use those fifth-graders as a lifeline.

The charm comes from the reminder for adults of how much simple grade-school info we can momentarily (or permanently) forget - I humbly report that I blanked on naming the Pilgrims' ship - while those pesky fifth-graders breeze through the questions.

It's all hosted pleasantly by Jeff Foxworthy, who pointed out to one player that he was getting academic help from someone wearing superhero underwear.

By the way, Mayflower. Just in case.

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Finally, we've got a couple programming reminders and changes.

If you're looking for ABC's "The Knights of Prosperity," abandon all hope. ABC yanked the witty series off the air indefinitely, and will replace it tonight with a repeat of "According to Jim," because that's what the world needs - more "According to Jim."

In the next couple weeks, that 8:30 p.m. Wednesday slot will be filled with repeats of "George Lopez," which at least is a little better.

On NBC, "Crossing Jordan" moves into the 9 p.m. slot Wednesday, replacing one edition of "Deal or No Deal."

And for "South Park" fans, there's good news and startling news. The kids from Colorado start Season 11 tonight (at 10 p.m. EST/PST on Comedy Central), and yeah, that said season No. 11.

Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny first showed up in 1997. Doesn't that make you feel old? On the bright side, the boys have learned pretty much nothing in the past decade, and "South Park" is as fresh and smart as ever, even if the professional scolds who show up everywhere have moved on to newer shows.