Pregnancy is typically the indicator of overstay for a TV series, especially a sitcom. The characters may as well gaze into the ultrasound monitor and coo, “Oh look, honey! It’s a shark, and it’s jumping!”
But the new ABC comedy Notes From the Underbelly bravely jumps into the baby-expecting world of a neurotic, youngish L.A. couple and finds plenty of sharp anxiety humor. Lauren (Jennifer Westfeldt), a counselor to spoiled, rich high school kids, and Andrew (Peter Cambor), a rubbery-faced landscape architect, are the kind of appealing he-she sitcom pair who bonded over their ability to quip-draw at 10 paces.
The seesawing excitement and terror over their ability to care for a brand-new human being is given a tart flaws-and-all treatment by creator Stacy Traub and director Barry Sonnenfeld: There are probably more negative jokes about imminent mother-and-fatherhood — the maternity underwear, the changing body, career woes, creepy baby showers — than positive ones. But it’s never a slimy marriage-hating show, like you might expect to be birthed on Fox.
The peripheral characters are obviously meant to be the extremes in Lauren’s and Andrew’s what-lies-ahead psyches: the insanely perky pregnant friend (Melanie Paxson, using Megan Mullally’s bird-chirp delivery to suggest positivity, not evil), the cynical single career woman pal (Rachael Harris) with a perpetual sneer for wedded bliss, and the good-natured slacker buddy (Michael Weaver), whom Andrew refers to as “our first child.” It’s a more-than-solid cast, which is half the battle. And it must be said that this is perhaps the most interesting variation on Sex and the City yet: where all the observational jokes and love-addled worry is about the Mr. Right or Ms. Right that hasn’t even been born yet.