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New fall season: CBS' How to Be a Gentleman aims at male delivery

Guess who the "gentleman" is. Give up? CBS photo

Premiering: Thursday, Sept. 29th at 7:30 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: David Hornsby, Kevin Dillon, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Dave Foley, Rhys Darby, Nancy Lenehan
Produced by: David Hornsby, Adam Chase, Ted Schachter

Several previously anointed "It Girls" populate the new fall season. In the interests of at least a semblance of equal time, there's an "It Guy," too.

He's Houston native David Hornsby (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia), who not only stars in but produces and writes the CBS sitcom How to Be a Gentleman.

Unself-consciously prissy, Hornsby's character, Andrew Carlson, sounds like The Church Lady and worships at the altar of refinement. But there's very little future in that because we live in times when boorish and/or infantile behavior are bull market commodities.

Carlson, who writes a buttoned-down column for Marquis magazine, learns at the outset that his magazine is going in a new direction by "targeting people who don't read." This news is broken by his editor, Jerry (the invariably entertaining Dave Foley), who's 50, wants to keep his job and therefore will go along with the program.

A guffawing laugh track notwithstanding, there's obviously some serious and sobering truth to this. It's later further underscored when Jerry dyes his hair almost jet black in an effort to remain relevant. Also speaking volumes is his matter-of-fact notation that the magazine is going after "that demographic Holy Grail -- men in their mid-to-late 30s who act like they're 15."

"It goes against my principles. I've got to put my foot down," Andrew tells Jerry when told that his column will have to assume the position and target that crowd.

"Then I'll have to fire you."

"What time is it due?"

Again, though, this is a comedy. And true to the premise, it's broadly drawn in hopes of reaching some of those hard-to-get younger males. Another magnet is Kevin Dillon, who recently stopped playing braying Johnny Drama on HBO's Entourage. He's now in very similar form as gym owner Bert Lansing, a shoulder-punching "man's man" who used to regularly beat up Andrew when they were high school classmates.

Bert thinks it's funny to joke about his dad dying of "cancer of the penis." Nah, he really didn't. But his sense of humor is the polar opposite of rarefied. And the low-brow but likable big lug is determined to mold Andrew into an aggressor male willing to shed his $500 blazer in favor of a tank top.

This dynamic works surprisingly well for a show that unapologetically "is what it is." It made me laugh in fits and spurts, which CBS' more-praised 2 Broke Girls definitely didn't.

The cast also has a third familiar face in Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe from 24), who plays Andrew's tart sister, Janet. She's married to a compliant Britisher named Mike (Rhys Darby), who pretty much lets her walk all over him. But that's Janet's SOP.

"Oh, is this my birthday present from you?" Andrew asks after absorbing a volley of her insults at a family dinner. " 'Cause you gave me a hugh basket of bitchiness last year, too."

Mike and Janet's gift actually is an introductory session at Bert's Body Shop. So that's how they meet before forming an odd couple alliance in the interests of firming up Andrew's pecs and personality.

"When I look at you, I get sad," Bert tells him at a strip club. That's because Andrew knows "everything about bein' a gentleman but nothin' about bein' a man."

Paired with CBS' hit The Big Bang Theory on Thursdays, How to Be a Gentleman is alternately muscle-headed and muscular. Hornsby's writing isn't always razor sharp, but it pretty much gets the job done in an opening episode that both rings of truth and loudly rings the bell.

There's probably no danger of anyone laughing 'til they cry. But this is a comedy with a solid core group of characters and a chance to go the distance. Which in these times would be all the way to a second season. On opening night, viewers might find that Bert, Andrew and How to Be a Gentleman go pretty well with a well-mannered slice of brie -- and a bargain bottle of brewski.

GRADE: B-minus