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. By beginning with the fourth episode, moreover, the network not only creates some confusion about the relationships among the central quartet but causes the mind to wander regarding just how bad the first three must have been. It will take considerable fancy footwork from a "Dancing With the Stars" lead-in to conquer this challenge.
As best as one can tell, 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).
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 (whose kid just kind of magically appears part-way through), but her angst over one-night-stand etiquette in this introductory airing makes "Cougar Town" seem intellectually demanding. All told, it's as if "Will and Grace" sired a straight, particularly unfunny child with "It's Like, You Know â¦ "
While 90 minutes of "Dancing" should funnel scads of female viewers in the show's direction, those who dare linger will find little to glom onto among these characters. Indeed, a last-minute postponement of the premiere only appears to be prolonging the inevitable.
Rebecca's confusion about dating is summed up near the episode's end (a moment already blown in the on-air promos), when she says, "That's how you scare a guy away." And viewers, too.