It’s unfortunate that Comedy Central decided to use the “C” word in promoting its new comedy sketch show Key & Peele. The “C” word, of course, is Chappelle, as in Dave Chappelle, as in Chappelle’s Show. Let me set the record straight up front: Key & Peele is NOT Chappelle’s Show, it is really nothing like Chappelle’s Show.
But let’s be honest, Chappelle’s Show, albeit short-lived, may just have been the funniest comedy sketch show EVER in the history of television. That’s not hyperbole, that’s a realistic assessment of the ground-breaking, taboo-shattering, side-splittingly funny Dave Chappelle vehicle that aired between 2003 and 2006.
There will probably never be another one, and I say that thinking specifically that Chris Rock, who is a funnier stand up than Dave Chappelle, did not have a funnier show, even on HBO, where they don’t bleep out the curse words.
Chappelle’s Show was one of a kind, a catchphrase and iconic character machine that briefly appeared on your TV screen and then disappeared just as quickly. This ain’t that. But this ain’t bad in its own right either.
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The brainchild of five year MadTV veterans Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele, Key & Peele is a quickhit sketch comedy reminiscent of MadTV (naturally), with a touch of In Living Color and even The Catherine Tate Show thrown in. The show intersperses sketches with live stage segments, drawing the inevitable Chappelle comparisons. The live portions have been the weaker link thus far, although the talented bi-racial duo certainly have the comedy chops to imrpove it.
The sketches have ranged from pedestrian to really funny. My personal favorites so far have been President Obama’s “anger translator” (Peele does an Obama impression that puts Fred Armisen to shame), the soul food restaurant sketch where two men order increasingly inedible dishes to show their “cred,” and a strange sketch about a stage play featuring Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. who takes turns trying to ramp up the gospel-church style audience using first, quotes from the historical figures and later movie catchphrases (Malcolm scores a winner with Wesley Snipes’ “always bet on black” from Passenger 57). In this fashion, Key & Peele does push the envelope a bit, and there is a ton of promise that this show could develop into, if not can’t miss TV, at least “want to check out” TV.
Like any new sketch show, Key & Peele need time: time to develop recurring characters that can become audience favorites, time to learn what works and what doesn’t, time to find it’s “sweet spot.” It could also use an expanded cast of regulars. What it doesn’t need is comparisons to Chappelle’s Show. Let it go, Comedy Central, Dave retired and he’s not coming back.
I Just Want My Pants Back is MTV’s latest attempt at original scripted programming, and the network just clearly doesn’t know what it’s trying to do. Ostensibly a sitcom, Pants focuses on Jason (Peter Vack), a 20-something slacker with a **** job living in Brooklyn, who has a memorable one night stand with a pretty hook-up (Kelli Barrett) he met at a party. The next morning, she leaves him with a fake number and wearing his favorite pair of jeans. The title I Just Want My Pants Back epitomizes the non-committal “ironic” hipster attitude toward life. Sadly, it also translates into a comedy that goes out of its way NOT to be funny. Obsessed with trying too hard not to deliver jokes, the show tries WAY to hard to glamorize the New York scene, taking extreme liberties along the way.
Despite Jason and his BFF Tina (Kim Shaw) being stuck in entry-level jobs, they can apparently afford to go out clubbing every night in New York City. Clearly, this show is aimed at an audience that has never actually been to New York. While being certain not to be funny in a random sitcom way (you know, with clever dialogue or jokes), I Just Want My Pants Back delivers an seemingly endless stream of penis and vagina jokes (I use “jokes” loosely here - more like 7000 different ways to describe your penis or vagina - TMI people) that aren’t funny, casual sex jokes that aren’t funny, followed by more not funny crotch jokes. Wait, I get it. They’re not funny but they’re IRONIC. Bleck. Note to Alannis Morrisette: I love you, but your usurpation of the word “ironic” to mean any “better to drop out than to try” attitude is unforgivable. I know you didn’t mean for this to happen, but it’s on you. When the show makes a hamfisted attempt at conventional humor (having an 11 year old say the bleeped out F word), we’re not sure whether that was meant to be funny, or an example of why other shows aren’t funny. When Jason posts an internet ad trying to find his missing girl+pants, he laments, “I don’t know if it’s funny enough.” It’s not, dude.
Slacker buddies Tina (Kim Shaw) & Jason (Peter Vack)
Our heroes, meanwhile, traipse through New York having one one-night stand after another. Who lives like this? At one point, Tina is freaked out after she sleeps with a guy she just met two night in a row. Oh, I get it - commitmentphobic (IRONIC!). And when did being a guy with no money and a **** job turn you into a girl magnet? As Jason pines away for his pants (shhhh: he REALLY wants the girl, but he’s being IRONIC), he also has a series of disastrous hook-ups, which could be funny but the show’s overall sexual tone beats you over the head so relentlessly that you are anesthetized at that point. Same deal on a bit where the swinging couple upstairs ruins a perfectly good foursome by having a roommate. Seriously, who lives like this?!
All of which makes me question if MTV really knows what its doing. Scripted programming isn’t reality TV, and as long the channel goes out of its way to convince you that the main reason to watch a show is to clue in on the soundtrack rather than the story, maybe scripted programming isn’t for this channel. In the interim, I can’t watch a show that exists primarily so I can tell other people I watch it (I Just Want My Pants Back? I Want My MTV? I want the last 30 minutes of my life back! I’m not getting any younger). I have no particular hostility toward hipsters, but the characters in this show seem like the answer to a “what if” - what if the guys on the Real World were fictional characters. MTV already answered that with The Hills, and while there is an occasional stab at the phoniness of it all a la the Dave of the Dead episode of Happy Endings, I Just Want My Pants back spent an hour and a half to get there for 90 seconds of comedy payoff. Happy Endings did it for 20 minutes straight, left us breathless with laughter, and moved on. That’s not ironic, but it is goddman f**king funny. This show should try it.
Reality Check: The Voice returned on Sunday after the Super Bowl. Another singing competition show? Yes, but not JUST another singing competition show. The Voice offers a variety of twists that make it far more entertaining than other shows in the genre. The first stage is the blind auditions. The four celebrity judges (Christina Aguilera, Blake Shelton, Cee Lo Green & Adam Levine) don’t get to see who is singing until they commit to the contestant. If more than one judge picks them, the contestant gets to pick which judge’s “team” they will join. Once the teams are formed, there is a series of “head to head” eliminations where two contestants both sing the same song as a duet, with one of them moving on. After that, there are both individual and group performances of the remaining contestants as the number gets reduced further.
If the rules sound confusing, so what? They keep the show interesting and fresh, and if you don’t like the way one round is run don’t worry, it will change soon enough. The Voice also removes the emphasis on audience voting - there is none in the earlier rounds and it counts only as a a percentage in the later ones. That also means only one or two results shows to sit through - NEVER a bad thing.
Best of all, The Voice focuses on music, and the four judges frequently perform, both as individuals, as a group, and with their “team member” contestants. Last season, Levine debuted Moves Like Jagger on the show and Christina Aguilera’s “final four” got to sing Lady Marmalade WITH Christina Aguilera. This season, the four judges have already joined forces to form the greatest Prince cover band ever. Let’s face it, Aguilera, Levine, Green & Shelton are stars at the top of their game in the music business and it shows. Trust me, this is SO much better (and quite a bit more FUN) than watching some wannabe sing while Simon Cowell makes rude faces at them.
One of the reasons Grimm works so well is that it smartly avoids overplaying its supernatural elements. Sometimes Detective Nick Burkhardt’s ability to see supernatural creatures is the key to solving a case, but sometimes its completely ancillary and the case turns on good police work, or even just a lucky break. Nick and his partner Hank come across as real cops, and by successfully combining creepy, supernatural themes with police procedural elements, Grimm takes you on a weekly otherwordly journey in a very real-seeming vehicle.
Educational TV: Things we learned from TV this week: 1) Zooey Deschanel is more powerful than road rage (New Girl); 2) Hawaii is a leper colony built on top of an active volcano where the disappointing conclusion to Lost was filmed (The Big Bang Theory); 3) Mickey Rourke has a catapult (30 Rock).
Alcatraz continues to deliver moving and engrossing episodes every week, and I can’t help but be impressed by the leg up the show is getting from its supporting cast. Veteran character actor Leon Rippy is terrific as the creepily sadistic Dr. Beauregard and it looks like there will be an expanded role for the outstanding Robert Forster, whose Ray Archer character is apparently much more wrapped up in the Alcatraz conspiracy than we were originally led to believe. Add in outstanding guest spots every week (this week, True Blood’s Jim Parrack delivered a nice turn as a guard returned from the past), and you have the formula for what has made this a quality show.
Admit It: ‘Shipping can get a little weird
OMG the old guy from Fringe and Professor Trelawney should TOTALLY hook up!
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Every now and then, a worn around the edges show like House can remind you why you started watching it in the first place. This week’s episode, told in flashback to a medical reviewer analyzing a case gone wrong, was innovative, interesting and suspenseful. From the silent visual of the opening scene, which looked like something more out of a horror movie than a medical drama, to the surprising ending, this episode was the best of what House can be. With the show now officially in its final season, it was nice to see some of the old magic, even for just one episode.
The Laugh A Minute Minute: Looking forward to the best sitcom Valentine’s Day episode? Don’t bother, Happy Endings already delivered 21 minutes and 39 seconds of perfection in tribute to the lovelorn holiday. Like an insane sitcom five-ring circus, Happy Endings delivered every conceivable type of laughs, from an observational comedy running storyline about the “breakup window,” to a perfectly executed string of clever wordplay by Eliza Coupe, to Damon Wayans, Jr. delivering a fearlessly hilarious too-many-dentist-drugs drooling, semi-conscious, face-in-the-food slapstick routine, to Casey Wilson and Adam Pally drawing laughs with an over the top pantomime, to Elisha Cuthbert’s cheerily running bit of pathos about the violent end of the hapless St. Valentine. The show topped it all off with a bit of self-deprecating, and not particularly inside-jokey humor, as the still drugged-up Wayans called the other characters Ross, Rachel, Monica and Joey, offering a wink to the many who have felt compelled to compare the show to Friends. It compares pretty favorably in my book.
Observations From Geek Heaven: The UK version of Being Human started season four this week (US audiences will get to see it starting at the end of the month), amid fanfare that despite the loss of a major character (Aidan Turner’s tortured vampire Mitchell), the show is still firing on all cylinders. Season 2 of Being Human US, meanwhile, is carving out a completely unique and divergent storyline from its predecessor, giving you twice the bang for the buck.
Also on everyone’s geek-radar, HBO reran season 1 of Game of Thrones over the weekend, along with trailers and some “making of” features for Season 2, which will premiere on April 1. I did myself a solid and also watched the Season 1 cast at Comic-con 2011, and I just can’t wait to see the next installment. Seven Hells! How am I going to wait until April?!
The Grammy awards air on CBS on February 12, while the BAFTAs (the British Oscars, basically) air on BBC America at the same time.
The Walking Dead returns to AMC on February 12. It will be followed by the premiere of Comic Book Men, a reality type show that appeals to the geek-culture, and of course, the return of Talking Dead, the surprisingly entertaining Walking Dead chat fest. ,
Full Metal Jousting, an extreme sports reality show that will feature actual present day jousts, premieres on The History Channel on February 12.
If you didn’t get your dog on watching The Puppy Bowl, USA begins two days of coverage of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Monday, February 13.
Cougar Town airs its third season premiere on ABC on February 14.
Survivor: One World premieres on CBS on February 15. Have there really been 24 seasons of this thing? Wow.
Revenge’s storyline will catch up to its season-opening teaser, and we’ll finally get to see what happens at that party on the beach on the February 15 episode.
TV’s a big place and I haven’t been to all of it yet. Got a favorite show you’d like me to comment on? Post a comment below, contact me on twitter @RobLazlo. or shoot me an email: RobNJ564@yahoo.com. I welcome your input!