"It's Not Easy" has winning ways and a piquant, resonant undercurrent almost worthy of Norman Lear, and that, plus a likable cast and deftly drawn characters, makes it the best new sitcom of the season, dubious honor though that may be. The ABC series about divorced spouses who live across the street from one another premieres at 9:30 tonight on Channel 7.

Unusually intelligent for an ABC series of any kind--most of them seem to have been written for, and by, people with double-digit vocabularies--the premise of "It's Not Easy" is complicated by the facts that: the couple had two children while they were married, and they are now shuttled back and forth across the street; the divorced wife has remarried and her new husband has a child by his previous marriage; and living across the street with the divorced man is the divorced man's mother.

Producer Patricia Nardo's crackerjack pilot script has to get all these lineages and relationships sorted out, and it indulges perhaps too heavily in simple insult gags between the two husbands, current and ex, but the general tone is far less shrill than usual for sitcom land, and there are possibilities to explore comedically some current impasses in the war between the sexes that many a TV movie has explored soberly.

The pity is, ABC's lone sane sitcom is slotted opposite NBC's wonderful "Cheers," the top of the line in modern situation comedy; "Cheers" begins its new season tonight replenished with a passel of Emmys that only verify what its fans already knew.

"It's Not Easy" benefits greatly from the easy, masculine comic style of Ken Howard as Jack Long, the wifeless husband, and Carlene Watkins seems something of a spunky discovery as his ex, Sharon Townsend. She is married to of all people Bert Convy (as Neal Townsend), whose dissipated chumpiness is put to good use at last. The children are fine, as Hollywood children go, especially a pudgy, curly haired little knockout, Rachel Jacobs, as Carol.

And Jayne Meadows proves again what an underrated comic actress she is as Jack's mother, who knows where all the pressure points are and just how to poke them; in other words, she is Everymother. It's a little disorienting, though, to hear Meadows--who breezes through her role as merrily as she stormed through her role on "Tenspeed and Brownshoe" a few seasons ago--referred to as "granny."

As with few programs of the new season, and virtually none of the new comedies, you can watch. "It's Not Easy," the premiere of which was nimbly directed by Robert Moore, and know there's something going on there. The show is to be wished well.