Hosts With the Most
Martin Short and Paul Reubens Don New Personas and Return to the Tube
Shows that spoof television have long been the darlings of critics, who credit them with making the medium's humor more sophisticated (though such programs aren't necessarily big ratings-grabbers). Take Comedy Central's newscast send-up The Daily Show, HBO's The Larry Sanders Show, '70s cult sudser Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, NBC's long-running Saturday Night Live, and the long-gone SCTV. All these programs have relied on bad TV as a source material to create, well, good TV.
This summer, two new shows have joined the medium's proud tradition of self-parody. Comedy Central's Primetime Glick features SNL and SCTV vet Martin Short as talk-show host and bloated celeb-ass-kisser Jiminy Glick, a recurring character Short created for his short-lived, syndicated daytime gab-fest The Martin Short Show. Pee Wee Herman creator and disgraced (or sandbagged?) porno aficionado Paul Reubens plays smarm machine/game-show host Troy Stevens on the new ABC quiz-a-thon You Don't Know Jack, based on the CD-ROM trivia game of the same name.
Both Short and Reubens started in improv comedy--Reubens with the Los Angeles-based troupe the Groundlings, Short with Second City in Toronto. A background in improv means that you're trained to be ready for anything, so for all intents and purposes, these two comics are playing it safe by spoofing TV-personality archetypes. For performance-based comedy to work, there has to be some degree of risk involved.
I wish Reubens would just bring back Pee Wee. This is the sentiment that repeatedly popped up in my brain while watching the comic take the helm of You Don't Know Jack as Troy Stevens. After all, how much bite is there in satirizing the oft-maligned TV game-show host? As he presides over what feels like an aura of rehearsed anarchy, Troy Stevens has so far proved to be a one-note character whose weapon is mild sarcasm. For Troy, Reubens adopts an announcer's voice with a consistent, see-sawing emphatic thrust, similar to that of SNL announcer Don Pardo, which gets old after a while.
And yet, compared to the rigid structure and underwhelming visuals of more traditional prime-time game shows like Jack's network-mate Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and NBC's The Weakest Link, Jack is a wild ride. Its visual palette is vibrant and, compared to the stripped-down minimalism of other game-show sets, Jack's environs look lived-in and pleasingly cluttered. Contestants answer conceptual queries ("Who's the first person to buzz in?") and trivia and pop-culture questions. While most of the questions are pretty easy, the key to winning on Jack is the player's ability to block out distractions--like a walk-on by a noisy mariachi band, or when Troy launches into a comic bit involving a dog attempting to wrestle away his cue cards.
Beneath the prosthetic makeup and the fat suit he wears to play celebrity schmoozer Jiminy Glick on Primetime Glick, Martin Short is barely recognizable. But once he starts in with his Glick shtick, Short's singular talent for disappearing into a comic persona is instantly recognizable. Fey, phony, incredibly underprepared Glick is pretty terrible at what he does. Luckily, he mostly plays host to comedians on his faux chat show, so the patter is snappy, especially when he brings up sticky topics ("Are you on drugs right now?" he asks Politically Incorrect host Bill Maher) or when he drills his guests about their most embarrassing screen credit ("What was it like working on Benson?" Glick asks an irritated Jerry Seinfeld).
But the best material on Primetime Glick are the filler bits strung between interview segments, mostly previews for silly, nonexistent TV shows (an old SCTV shtick that still works) and show-within-a-show sketches and monologues Glick performs for his program's studio audience. A particularly winning skit involves Glick reading a bedtime story about the mysterious, Hollywood Babylon-esque robbery/murder of Rebel Without a Cause star Sal Mineo to a group of bored-looking kids. Glick, of course, is oblivious to their disinterest in celebrity chitchat in general, and old Hollywood scandals in particular.
Not everything on Primetime Glick works. The show suffers from some dead spots and such an eagerness to establish the Glick persona that the character overshadows the supporting players, like Michael McKean's wind-burned bandleader Adrien Van Voorhees. Still, Glick--or, rather, Short--has such a great guest lineup (Janeane Garofalo, Nathan Lane, and Conan O'Brien are all scheduled to warm up the couch in future episodes) that it would be hard to pass this one by.
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