By Ken Tucker
Updated June 23, 2010 at 12:00 PM EDT

With its cardboard-looking sets and “live studio audience” guffaws, Hot in Cleveland may look and sound like a throwback to a 1980s sitcom, but this week’s second episode took it to 2010’s standards of low comedy.

It all started out with affable sarcasm, as Jane Leeves’ Joy asked Betty White’s Elka, “Was Ohio even a state when you were born?” and White, with her impeccable timing, snapped, “They were talking about it.”

It’s still fun to live in the cheerfully ludicrous contemporary Cleveland universe Hot has created, where Elka the 88 year-old “caretaker” prepares breakfast for a woman half her age (that would be Valerie Bertinelli’s Melanie) and her two snippy pals (Joy and Wendie Malick’s Victoria). The whole sitting-around-the-kitchen-table staging was very Golden Girls-y.

Joy went on a date with a much younger man, not without some worry about her outfit. “Not too cougary?” she asked her friends, describing herself as “a self-hating cougar.” Elka went to her fall-back insult: “Hooker,” she deemed Joy in her teeny dress.

Turns out our British gal’s date was born in London on the same day as a child to which Joy gave birth. And gave up for adoption. It occurred to Joy that she could be dating her own son. She was sad about this, because the guy was not only cute, but “he said I looked 38.” White’s Elka jumped in: “Your son is mentally challenged?” This scene quickly achieved, by my count, a triple ick-factor.

Later, after some shenanigans about getting a DNA sample from the handsome lad, it was concluded that this was not Joy’s son. Still, she said wistfully, the real offspring was “out there, a grown man… I might have grandchildren.”

Elka’s punchline? “Hey, maybe one of ’em’s old enough to date.” Correction: make that a quadruple ick.

It’s not that these jokes were so scandalous; it’s that they were so cheap ‘n’ easy. White’s Elka had the night’s other, slightly better, subplot, trying to steel herself to call three elderly gents who’d given her their phone numbers. She was tempted to ring up Sal, who still has “both original hips.” But the one she most wanted to date, Larry (because he still had most of his hair), died in the time between giving Elka his number and her making the call. While I didn’t buy the notion that brassy Elka would be shy about calling a guy, I liked the way White sold this material, which could have been merely grim.

A few things emerged with this second episode. First, the writers are depending heavily on White and Malick to provide the laughs, Leeves to move the action along (is she really going to track down that long-lost son?), and Bertinelli to… sit around and smile genially and set up the others. I feel a bit bad for Bertinelli, whose character is, after all, the reason this gaggle of silly geese is in Cleveland to begin with.

What did you think of the second week of Hot in Cleveland?