Love that "Babes." And love those babes: Wendie Jo Sperber, Susan Peretz and Lesley Boone as Charlene, Darlene and Marlene, three fat sisters living cheek by jowl by cheek in a cramped Manhattan flat.

Oh it's crude (a girl pulls her boyfriend's pants off) and it's coarse (the script includes adjectives new to prime time) but it's from Fox, so that's to be expected. Even so, it bounces happily onto the air tonight, at 8:30 on Channel 5, raunchy and robust.

Are there fat jokes? Of course there are fat jokes. "I tried sticking my head in the oven," says a depressed Marlene, "but there was a cake in it." When the three show up at an office for an interview, the receptionist snarls, "What is this -- 'Fantasia'?"

But "Babes" isn't jeering at fatty-cakes and thunder-bunnies. It's jeering at the jeerers. Its sights are aimed at those who prejudge people because of their size or any other physical thing about them.

And the sisters vow to put up a brave defense against a hostile, thin-is-in world. "Nothing bad can happen to us, as long as the three of us stick together," one of them says just before the bed collapses beneath them.

Their camaraderie is funny and touching, and though Sperber is the most accomplished comic actress in the group (she was a regular with Tom Hanks on "Bosom Buddies," among other credits), everybody gets a chance to stand out, so to speak. Writer Tracey Jackson passes the funny lines around too.

Backstage at a modeling session, Charlene watches a nubile sylph slink by and moans, "I've had burgers that weighed more than her."

By no means are the three sisters treated as freaks, and why should they be? Overweight is a problem virtually everybody has or imagines they have, and tales of weight battles saturate the tabloids and talk TV. "Babes" taps gleefully into universal neuroses.

Michael Lessac directed, with "Hellzapoppin" dash, and the show has a bright, sunny look. At the end, the sisters wreak gratifying revenge on a size-ist pig, though if they do this every week, it may get tiresome. Still, the premiere inspires optimism. "Babes" has a lot of thigh, and a lot of heart.

'Law & Order'

Nothing if not serious, and nothing if not good, NBC's "Law & Order" nevertheless seems a victim of one particular TV tyranny. Its stories are too long for the one-hour format into which they are stuffed.

Otherwise the series, which premieres at 10 tonight on Channel 4, has all the ingredients associated with quality television: strong scripts, relevant themes and a cast that qualifies as first-rate-plus.

As the title suggests, the show follows criminal cases from investigation by the police through arrest and trial by the district attorney's office. In the first show, "Prescription for Death," the DA gets involved about 20 minutes into the drama. A little more than halfway through, we're in the courtroom.

The opener begins in an emergency room, where a young woman is gasping. Her blouse is unbuttoned (a bit farther than blouses are usually unbuttoned in prime time) and the paddles applied. She dies. Police believe doctors may have been guilty of criminal negligence and pursue the case.

Unfortunately, because of the time constraints, they must pursue it at 90 miles an hour, and though subtitles indicate the passage of time ("Urban Medical Center, Friday, March 30"), plausibility suffers with so much narrative compression.

Then, too, one would like to get deeper into the characters. George Dzundza and Christopher Noth are likably hard-edged and obsessive as the cops, and Michael Moriarty and Richard Brooks give as much complexity as they can to the assistant district attorneys they play. But if you blink, you may miss the character development.

It's particularly gratifying to see Moriarty in a good role again. In the '70s, he was the Hot Young Actor, mainly for his triumph in the Broadway play "Find Your Way Home," an unforgettable performance. But then he stumbled into some very unfortunate movies, one of them about a prehistoric bird living in the Chrysler Building. Really.

"Law & Order" marks Michael Moriarty's return to acting.

Some of the dialogue tonight seems a little harsh on doctors. "The patient died, but don't worry; the doctor is doing just fine," growls Dzundza after a visit with the woman's physician, who wasn't involved in her death. Another doctor boasts of his wealth from the terrace of a grand apartment.

A cop recalling conflicting diagnoses from two neurologists says, "At least he caught the mistake," to which Dzundza snarls, "Yeah -- and when they don't, they just bury 'em." A serious look at medical errors would be welcome, but this just sounds like snotty doctor-bashing.

One might also note that an exchange between two cops on a future installment is unworthy of the show, though notable as a sign of TV's New Naughtiness. The cops are discussing a victim's tight trousers. "Ooh, like a cheap hotel," says one. "What's that supposed to mean?" asks the other. Reply: "No ballroom."

These complaints are worth making only because "Law & Order" has golden potential. Executive producer Dick Wolf says he wants to make TV that matters about issues that count. "Law & Order" is now half a giant step in that direction.