CBS (Wednesdays, 8:30 p.m. ET)
It’s an odd one, but that’s okay; at least it’s different. Lila Kaye, an accomplished Royal Shakespeare Company actress (Mrs. Squeers and Mrs. Crummles in Nicholas Nickleby), trades in her British accent for a Brooklyn twang to play the amply proportioned Italian hostess of a cooking show broadcast from her own apartment. While the cameras roll, Mama is visited by family, friends and crises aplenty. Her lounge-lizard brother, for instance, comes on Mama’s show to sing and plug his grungy gigs and to introduce her to his girlfriend, who turns out to be—Mother of Mercy!—an exotic dancer (she performs her feather dance with Mama’s pot lids). Mama doesn’t do much cooking. “When’s she gonna get to the lasagna?” pleads one of the show-within-the-show’s directors. “They’re all part of the lasagna—the people,” says another. Kaye is a rich comic actress, her supporting cast of little-knowns is good and the show’s creators are sitcom veterans to say the least (executive producer Dick Lewis produced the pilots of Leave It to Beaver and McHale’s Navy). The show does take some getting used to; it’s hard sometimes to figure out whether you’re watching an ethnic Julia Child or Mama Knows Best. In either case, it’s worth the half-hour.