THE SHOW "One Big Happy"

WHEN | WHERE Premieres March 17 at 9:30 on NBC/4

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Lizzy (Elisha Cuthbert) is a lesbian living with Luke (Nick Zano), who is straight. She wants a baby and he's happy to help. Then things get complicated: He meets and marries Prudence (Kelly Brook), a free-spirited clothing-is-optional Brit. She moves in, and suddenly it's "Three's Company" -- except a fourth member of this family is on the way. Ellen DeGeneres is producing this six-episode series, but the real creator is Liz Feldman, a longtime DeGeneres colleague, whose own life story -- or at least a chapter of it -- is told here.

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MY SAY Fans of shows like "Parks and Recreation" have been declaiming that TV comedy on NBC is officially dead -- pointing to the recent extinction of their favorite show as evidence. Just look at the new stuff! Atavistic retreads with studio audiences, predictable laugh lines and dumb setups. Where's the next Ron Swanson? Where's the next "Parks and Recreation"?

 But one point should be obvious to even them: NBC doesn't want another "Parks and Recreation," least of all a show for people who use words like "atavistic." This is a network in search of viewers, and lots of them.

That doesn't mean the new stuff has to be bad either, at least in principle. (And NBC does have at least a couple of promising semi-newcomers, like "Marry Me" and "About a Boy.")

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In fact, "One Big Happy's" truly engaging idea is Lizzy -- a single gay woman who wants what everyone else wants -- happiness -- but has to navigate through a world that either denies her that, or doesn't have a clue how to provide it. Besides comedy, Feldman conceivably could have taken one of two other roads, drama or dramedy.

Instead, she and DeGeneres opted for the road most overtraveled -- the multicamera sitcom -- and the result feels like a dead end. This is "atavistic" in big bold letters, and proud of it -- a sitcom of the way-we-live-now variety, with the "unconventional" family, comprised of two women and a guy (and an unborn baby), with laughter provided by a giddily uncritical studio audience.

 Even while embracing the unconventional, its eye is trained too cautiously on the TV past, where dinosaurs like "Three's Company" once roamed.

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The upshot: "One Big Happy" is just . . . conventional.

GRADE C-