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‘Four Kings’ is old hat

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Seth Green, Todd Grinnell, Josh Cooke and Shane McRae in "Four Kings."

Seth Green, Todd Grinnell, Josh Cooke and Shane McRae in “Four Kings.”

Mitch Haaseth, NBC Entertainment

"Four Kings" is a new sitcom. Really.

It's just that it doesn't seem like one.

Part of that is it's a return to a comfortable format. Another part is that it's not exactly a fresh concept.

Here we go again with a show about a group of (white) friends who live in New York City and hang out. It could be "Friends" except that all of them are guys. It could be "Will & Grace" except none of them is female or gay.

It's set-up, joke, set-up, joke. Occasionally funny, but sort of the sitcom equivalent of paint-by-the-numbers.

It makes me wonder if executive producer Max Mutchnick was kidding when he said he and partner David Kohan ("Will & Grace") created "Four Kings" because, "It was time for us to come up with a new series" under terms of their contract with Warner Bros. Because there doesn't seem to be any passion here.

"Four Kings" (7:30 p.m., Ch. 5) revolves around the exploits of four lifelong friends — Barry (Seth Green), Bobby (Shane McRae), Ben (Josh Cooke) and Jason (Todd Grinnell) — who share a great New York apartment that one of them inherits from his grandmother. They're twentysomething guys who act like adolescents, complete with hijinks like making Barry climb into a dryer at the laundromat because he's so short.

And their relationships with the opposite sex are equally juvenile.

It's as if Joey and Chandler on "Friends" were joined by another Joey and Chandler. Only not nearly as funny.

"It's like once upon a time your family was the family that you were born to and that you were raised by, and then on the other side of that is the family that you start yourself," Kohan said. "And in between, who is your family? What is it? And where are they? And what constitutes a family when you're right sort of on the cusp of adulthood?"

Apparently, the answer here is four guys with the emotional maturity of 13-year-olds.

"Four Kings" isn't awful. And there are some genuinely funny moments.

But it's difficult to imagine wanting to watch this thing for very long. Particularly when you consider that Mutchnick and Kohan had enough good ideas for, oh, about a season-and-a-half of "Will & Grace" before their comedic well ran dry. And their work since then — on the lame "Good Morning Miami" and the lamer "Twins" — doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

NBC is looking to rebuild its Thursday-night sitcom glory. This isn't the way to do it.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS: Running one network sitcom is a fulltime, all-consuming job. Running two — "Four Kings" for NBC and "Twins" for the WB — seems overwhelming.

So, which show is the No. 1 priority for Kohan and Mutchnick? Depends on when you ask.

Addressing TV critics during an NBC press conference promoting "Four Kings," Kohan said, "All of our time is going to be on this show."

Addressing TV critics during a WB press conference promoting "Twins," Mutchnick said, "We only work on this one."

By the way, the presidents of the respective networks were in the room at the time both answers were given.

E-mail: pierce@desnews.com