Premieres tonight on The CW, 8:00 p.m. ET/ 7:00 p.m. CT

So far this TV season we've been flooded with action-adventure and soaps, but The CW's Life Is Wild is the first old-fashioned family-friendly drama. The reasons for the scarcity are twofold: 1. Good family shows are hard to do well; and 2. Hardly anybody watches them. The CW–and its antecedent The WB–have kept the tradition alive over the past decade with Everwood and 7th Heaven, but even those shows struggled with how to stay fresh and relevant without alienating their intended tweens-to-grandmas audience.

Life Is Wild is unlikely to alienate anyone, except for those who prefer TV to be, oh, funny, dramatic, thrilling, surprising–pick your adjective. The show's premise is solid, but that's no great feat, since it's based on the already successful British series Wild At Heart. D.W. Moffett plays a New York veterinarian who agrees to spend a year helping his late first wife's father tend to the animals at a run-down South African lodge. In tow? His kids, his new wife, and her kids–including a flippant teen rebel type. Balancing out the rebel? Moffett's oldest daughter, Leah Pipes, who narrates the show in a forced, slangy voice that makes Life Is Wild sound a little like a junior-league version of Gossip Girl.

But it's not just the narration that weighs down Life Is Wild. Given a locale unlike any on American TV, and a set of story possibilities that includes long-festering race and class conflicts–hinted at in a couple of fleetingly compelling scenes set a much ritzier South African lodge–the pilot sticks with routine dysfunctional-family-learns-to-love-again dynamics, combined with cuddly animals and wretched dialogue.

And how about that dialogue? When Moffett admits that taking the family to Africa is "out there," his stepson says, "No, making us go to Knott's Berry Farm was 'out there.' This is sick." When they arrive at the family lodge, Pipes scoffs, "Not bad, if you're shooting an episode of Pimp My Lodge." Nearly every word spoken on the show is either some flip, TV-writer-ish attempt to be colorful, or clumsily expository. The worst in that latter regard comes when Moffett's ex-father-in-law, crusty lodge owner David Butler, meets Moffett's new wife and says, I swear to God, "So you're the high-powered divorce lawyer who makes a living out of other people's misery."

If Butler ever met me, he could sum me up thusly: "So you're the disappointed viewer who wishes a show with such possibilities weren't so unpalatably bland."

Grade: C-

Stray observations:

-Rumor has it that the version of the pilot airing tonight (and that I saw on a screener) is pretty different from the one that The CW showed to the TV critics' convention a couple of months ago. (It's been recast, reshot and reconceived, apparently.) To be honest, this episode feels like two hours condensed to one. It lurches forward awkwardly, all the while making clearly overdubbed references to scenes and events we don't get to see. (To be fair, those overdubs are more glaring on the screener; the final version airing tonight should be a lot smoother.)

-This week I saw a pair of lions in a living room on Dirty Sexy Money, and now elephants and giraffes sharing shots with actors on Life Is Wild. I'm suire some of these shots are real, but in the era of seamless digital effects, you could put a live actor's head in the mouth of a live lion, and my pulse wouldn't race. Now when the kid on Kid Nation this week stared down a bull? That was scary.

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