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Supporting characters offer something to like in CBS' Mad Love

Mad Love's Tyler Labine and Jason Biggs collaborate on a subdued high-five while promoting the new Monday night sitcom. CBS photo

Premiering: Monday, Feb. 14th at 7:30 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Jason Biggs, Sarah Chalke, Tyler Labine, Judy Greer
Produced by: Matt Tarses, Jamie Tarses

The semi-dreaded but not altogether unwelcome "not terrible" tag is visited upon CBS' latest Monday night comedy entry.

Once again we're in New York, where a chance meeting atop the Empire State building leads to budding Mad Love between characters played by American Pie alum Jason Biggs and former Scrubs co-star Sarah Chalke.

Biggs, as straitlaced Ben Parr, is trying to find the gumption to break up with his controlling girlfriend Erin (guest star Rachel Boston). Chalke's Kate Swanson, who's terminally unlucky with guys, is first seen battling a toilet that has swallowed her cell phone. There are no stimulative pastries in the Valentine's Day premiere, although Biggs joked during a recent session with TV critics that "I have sex with a sheet cake in the second episode."

The character much more likely to have sex with a sheet cake is Ben's slovenly best friend, Larry Munsch (Tyler Labine), who also serves as Mad Love's book-ending narrator.

"I'm sort of like a god-like love ranger, or a love ninja," Larry says in closing. "The point is, every love story should have one of me."

This actually is true in this case. Most of the show's fun -- and sparks -- are from the insult banter between talkative Larry and Kate's sour gal pal, Connie Grabowski (Judy Greer). She's immediately repulsed by him and he's up for being her punching bag. So Larry just rolls with it while Connie regularly aims unfriendly fire on the order of "I'm a nanny. So I'm used to hanging out with pudgy people who whine a lot." He also looks familiar to her, but only because she's been to lots of pedophile conventions. And so on. Clearly they're made for one another, although this will take some time.

Biggs' character in contrast is pretty dull, even though his less than scintillating Ben strives to talk a good game.

"There's no fireworks, Larry," he says of his stagnant relationship with Erin. "I need more than just pretty and organized. I need laughter and affection and an opinion on who would win a fight between Batman and Superman."

"Plus, her lease is almost up and she wants to move in," Larry adds before Ben repeats that line verbatim. It all makes for a sluggish, labored start before Harry meets Sally, er, Larry meets Connie.

Mad Love will be nestled between the fading How I Met Your Mother and the Charlie Sheen-fouled Two and a Half Men, which again has stopped production while its star battles or flaunts his various additions, depending on which account one reads. Meanwhile, Rules of Engagement is relocating to Thursdays, supplanting William Shatner's $#*! My Dad Says, which at this point seems unlikely to return next season.

All of these comedies are equipped with laugh tracks, with CBS the last of the Big Four networks still steadfastly clinging to that old sitcom religion. Mad Love in fact is hardly a laugh riot, but might well prompt a few chuckles beyond the canned ones. If so, look for Larry and Connie to supply them during their anti-quality time together.

Will & Grace found itself in similar straits when Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes kept stealing a majority of the laughs from the lead characters. But that was hardly a problem. The show ran for eight seasons on NBC. Egos aside, all involved with Mad Love almost assuredly would be smitten with that tradeoff.