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`SUNDAY DINNER' IS A BIG DISAPPOINTMENT

"Sunday Dinner" is by no means the worst sitcom to come along this year, but it is the most disappointing.

After all, the show marks the return of producer Norman Lear to television. You remember Lear, the man who brought us a string of funny, topical hits back in the '70s - "All In the Family," "Maude," "Good Times," and "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.""Sunday Dinner" is an attempt to bring that type of humor back to TV, but its greatest failing is that it just isn't very funny. The first three shows have been made available for preview, and there isn't a real laugh until episode No. 3.

The topicality comes in the form of Ben Benedict (Robert Loggia), a 56-year-old man who is engaged to a 30-year-old environmental lawyer named T.T. (Teri Hatcher). T.T. is a true believer in God, whom she usually addresses as "Chief."

(This has already raised the hackles of some religious fundamentalists, but their reaction is rather silly. It is nice to see religion at least show up in network television - even if it isn't your form of religion.)

Ben's three grown children from a previous marriage are - surprise! - less than thrilled with the pending nuptials. And, unfortunately, the three are nothing but stereotyped sitcom characters.

Diana (Kari Lizer) is sort of an airheaded Long Island valley girl. Vicki (Martha Gehman) is a supersmart (but tactless) single parent and doctoral candidate. The most appealing of the three is son Kenneth (Patrick Breen), who's full of stupid get-rich-quick schemes and spouts malapropisms the way Archie Bunker used to.

Unfortunately, that and a certain likeness in the floorplans of the Benedict and Bunker homes are about the only similarities between "Sunday Dinner" and "All In the Family."

"Dinner's" humor, such as it is, is forced and sometimes silly. While "Family" could discuss issues ranging from the Vietnam War to women's rights with humor and insight, "Dinner" is preachy, bombastic and labored.

And while Carroll O'Connor became a television legend as Archie, Loggia - a fine actor - looks uncomfortable and bored with this part.

Maybe it wasn't such a great idea to pair this show with reruns of "All In the Family" (Sunday, 7:30 p.m., Ch. 5). "Sunday Dinner" is going to suffer badly from comparisons between the two.