Wednesday, March 12, 2008

TV premiering tonight: Lewis Black's Root of All Evil

I like Lewis Black best in small doses, like in the little rants on The Daily Show that first put him on the map. So for me the amount of time he's onscreen on his new show Root of All Evil is just about perfect, but it seems odd to build a show around the guy and his very popular persona, and then have him barely appear in it. The concept is also contrived and convoluted: Each episode features a showdown between two institutions or entities (in the first episode, Oprah and the Catholic Church) to "determine" which is worse for society. Really, this means that two D-level comedians that you probably recognize from any number of VH1 talking-head shows spend the entire show alternately riffing on their assigned concepts, Black makes the occasional snide remark, and an arbitrary and meaningless "verdict" is delivered at the end.

It's all dressed up with a set reminiscent of modern game shows like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and its descendants, and divided into segments with fancy names that all really serve the same purpose. It's not a good showcase for Black, who never has time to get up a head of steam on one of his signature rants, and the comedians who appear are mediocre at best and hampered by being required to come up with a whole show's worth of material on one topic. There are video segments that break up the monotony, but they're also rather forced (although I did like the Oprah segment, tearing down her critique of inner-city schoolchildren).

It comes off like the producers really overthought how to create a show for Black, when what they should have done was just turn a camera on him and let him complain about stuff for half an hour a week - that's what he's good at. (Side note: The screener I got had several unbleeped utterances of "fuck," which surprised me. I don't know if they're going to be taken out before the show airs, or if Comedy Central has just decided that anything goes when it comes to profanity, but it caught me off-guard.) Comedy Central, Wednesdays, 10:30 p.m.

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