Sunday, September 17, 2006

Stand up comics make TV sitcoms? How extraordinary.

Recently I stumbled across Blogcritics, a site where bloggers can submit reviews of whatever they like.  In theory doing this will actually get a few readers and perhaps steer some traffic to one’s blog, so I signed up.  This is the first review I put up there, and now I’m putting it up here as well.  Will more people read it on Blogcritics?  Unfortunately I don’t see a counter telling me how many people have read my review, so no idea, but I’ll keep doing it for a while and see if I get any response or anything.

Lucky Louie
Premise: Roseanne, but starring a low-key blue-collar guy instead of a shrewish blue-collar gal.
Lucky Louie, an HBO sitcom starring the oddly named comic Louis C.K., lets you know what it's all about in the beginning of the first episode, when Louie's daughter, Lucy, plays the "why" game, a game my sister used to torture me with in which every answer leads to another question.
Lucy starts with generic kid questions, "Why is the sky blue?" and “Why do we eat cereal for breakfast?" As she keeps asking why with each answer, Louis' replies become more introspective. He begins to tell his ten-year-old kid that he failed to achieve a better life because he did too many drugs in college. It's a very human, real scene, and also quite funny. At its best, this is what Lucky Louie gives you.
Louis is a screw up but he knows he is and feels guilty about it. But not guilty enough to stop being a screw up: that's what makes him just like us. His wife Kim (played by Pamela Adlon, who also does the voice of Bobby on King of the Hill) functions both as Louis' emotional support and inquisitor, keeping things together, but constantly berating Louie for his shortcomings. Adlon is terrific, funny, and, like Louie, very human.
The standout of the show is Kelly Gould as the mercurial Lucy who will run out to Kim to excitedly show her something and then, when Louis enthusiastically asks to see it, rage, "I'm not talking to you, I'm talking to mom!" Children are, by objective standards insane, but also cute, and Lucy effortlessly shifts from one pole to the other.
The rest of the cast varies. Kim has a mooching, half-witted brother who seems to be the show's attempt to create a Kramer. Louis has a co-worker who is rather like that sleazy guy who was on Becker and they seem to be on a different, wackier show than the one the nuclear family inhabits.
Louis' boss and his wife are pretty good in the middle ground, but the family across the hall is the only other one who completely avoids the cartooniness of the show's bit players.
Lucky Louie focuses primarily on two things: child raising and sex (my understanding is the latter leads to the former which leads to the end of the latter). Some of the sex stuff seems designed to make the show edgy enough for HBO (as do stunts like having one of the minor male characters appear completely naked with everything showing), but even then it tends to feel pretty honest and it's nice to see a show that has a semi-adult attitude towards masturbation.
Final analysis: It's funny, the characters are likeable, and it's got the funniest and most insightful portrayal of a child I've ever seen on TV. Well worth watching.


The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman
Premise: People in Hollywood are nuts. Nuts I tell you!
One of the minor players in Lucky Louie is the brilliant standup comic Laura Kightlinger, a sexy woman inexplicably married to Louie's overweight boss. Kightlinger also has her own series, an eight-part miniseries that makes up for its short length with a long title: The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman. It's playing on the Independent Film Channel.
In Accomplishments, Kightlinger plays a magazine writer and aspiring scriptwriter trying to make it in Hollywood. According to the New York Times review of the show, the first episode was hysterically funny. I didn't see the first episode, and honestly, I find it hard to believe it was that funny.
Accomplishments doesn't really seem to be about being funny. It's about showing how horrible people are and how all of Jackie's shots at success are undone by the idiocy of the Hollywood system — although Jackie's own cynicism and apathy could have something to do with it.
There are very funny moments in Accomplishments, as when two security guards in an office building discuss a man they see masturbating at his cubicle or when Jackie interviews a crazy artist who insists the interview be done without words, leading to a series of weird stares and incomprehensible motions.
Mainly the show is just sort of depressing. It's got that "everything-sucks-and-people-who-don't-know-that-are-fools" vibe (making it a good companion piece for the similarly dark, but not especially funny, animated British series Monkey Dust).
Lucky Louie also portrays life as rather hopeless and full of difficulties that may well be impossible to overcome, but it is likeably human where Accomplishments is archly cynical. But that's not the problem; I myself am archly cynical as often as not. The problem is the series isn't all that funny and the characters aren't likeable enough to balance that out.
I appreciate that the show is trying to be something more than a standard sitcom, but if you don't have strong jokes or relatable characters or a compelling storyline and your only target is the painfully easy one of Hollywood, well, you've got problems.
Final Analysis: This one's keeping me watching, but just barely; it's got just enough sense of potential that I keep thinking the next episode will be really good. I do like Kightlinger, and I do think she could do something great one day, but I don't think this is it.

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