Two years ago, I reviewed MADtv and Talkshow with Spike Feresten for Blogcritics. I decided to revisit the two shows as they are still on the air for some reason.
I'm amazed MADtv is still on the air. I used to like the show back in 1995, but almost all connections to what MADtv originally was are gone. The classic Heavy D theme has been replaced by some tuneless something, and I can't even remember when Alfred E. Neuman was part of the show's logo. The show no longer feels like it did even two or three years ago. I can accept change, but MADtv's fourteenth season premiere was just plain shit.
I've found Bobby Lee insufferable as of late. I laughed at parts of a Johnny Gan sketch, but the laughs were of the if-I-don't-laugh-I'll-toss-a-chair variety. The Gan formula – Gan wants to have sex with Hollywood starlets, sidekick Pongo is damn near retarded, Gan's show is amateurish – was not helped by the appearance of Pongo's vestigial twin Pangsy. Yay for unfunny shock humor!
Lee even played John McCain in two sketches, a strange casting choice that didn't work comedically. To be fair, Lee wasn't allowed to do much with McCain beyond Crotchety Old Man jokes, a sure sign of awful writing.
The other main draw of today's MADtv is Keegan-Michael Key, and his Barack Obama impersonation is fairly good. I have never liked his Coach Hines character, but Hines was the highlight of MADtv's season premiere.
On the other hand, Key has a dull segment called "Hole 'Nother Level" – HNL for short – where he annoys guest stars. Here, Key threw Jerry O'Connell "you were the fat kid from Stand By Me" jokes. It's not a good sign when O'Connell is the better actor in the sketch.
I hated MADtv's fourteenth season premiere overall. Barack Obama and John McCain on So You Think You Can Dance, a recurring parody of The Hills and Arden Myrin's celebrity interview segment weren't funny. Jerry O'Connell was even in a John Edwards-centric parody of Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" video. The idea of O'Connell doing sketch comedy scares the hell out of me.
There is no reason for the further existence of MADtv. This is the first time I've caught the show in two years and it has shown zero improvement since then. MADtv deals in loudly insipid shock humor at this point and the retooling last season did nothing to improve it. Fox needs to shear this malignant tumor on its schedules with a broadaxe.
As for Talkshow with Spike Feresten, it seems to have improved from its first season. The show is assured in its format and Feresten is comfortable being a talk show host. "Comedy For Stoners" is still around despite the segment's constant ability to be shitty, but the show seems to know what it is by now.
The big comedy segment of the night – Feresten went to Minneapolis-St. Paul ostensibly to cover the Republican National Convention, but ended up renting a double-decker bus to promote the "Closeted Gay Republicans Tour" – had its moments. Much of the humor related to Senator Larry Craig's arrest at a Minnesota airport for homosexual lewd conduct, not the most obvious angle for a sketch.
An Abraham Lincoln lookalike reading Congressman Mark Foley's instant message chats to a Congressional page for the benefit of tour-goers shouldn't be funny. Somehow, it was though and I'm not quite sure why.
The little things about Talkshow are what make it work. Feresten went to new announcer Rick Richards at one point, threatening banter between the two, but nothing came of their exchange. It was a subtle subversion of the "banter between host and announcer" trope common to late-night talk shows, perfectly timed.
The interview with new American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi was nothing special, but guest banter has never been Spike Feresten's strong point. Watching Talkshow with Spike Feresten for a piece of pop culture ephemera like DioGuardi is like buying High Times for anything not related to pot.
Talkshow is a bit too low-key in its approach and not gut-bustingly funny, but such qualities also make it watchable on a regular basis. Feresten has found his formula, making me wonder why Fox doesn't expand Talkshow to an hour or air it more than once a week. At the very least, I'm interested in watching this series again. I can't see Talkshow zooming to popularity The Daily Show-style, but it might be hitting its stride.