WB comedy is a failed `Experiment'

January 12, 2002|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

Talk about a slip of a show. I haven't seen as thin a concept for a prime-time comedy show as the WB's JKX: The Jamie Kennedy Experiment since The Paula Poundstone Show debacle on ABC a few seasons back.

Remember that one? ABC announced the debut of Poundstone's show, and then she announced a few days before it aired that she wasn't exactly sure how to do a television show. The product eventually put on ABC's air looked as though she didn't have a clue.

Jamie Kennedy (Scream) has a clue and some acting talent, too, but that's about it. There is almost enough here for a five-minute sketch on Saturday Night Live, not a half-hour show.

JKX seems to want to be an updated version of Candid Camera for younger viewers, with Kennedy in various disguises. That's all there is here, believe me, despite all the WB press-hype-talk about improvisation, cutting edge, and how the series "pushes the sketch comedy and practical joke formats to new extremes."

The first sketch features Kennedy as a would-be rap star joining his girlfriend at a restaurant to meet her older sister and mother for the first time. The woman playing Kennedy's girlfriend is in on the joke, while her real-life mother and older sister are not.

We get to watch the mounting astonishment and anger of mom and older sister as they meet this Eminem wannabe and then find out he and his "main squeezy," as he calls his girlfriend, plan to get married - and she plans to drop out of college to support him and his crackpot career ambitions.

There's a smile or two here, but how hard is it to anger an older sister or mom with a patently knuckle-headed boyfriend saying crazy stuff that could ruin their best hopes for someone they love? "New extremes"? I don't think so.

The second sketch is the lamest. It features Kennedy as the inventor of a product called the Insta-Cooker, which cooks hamburgers in 30 seconds. The setup has him as the host of an infomercial, where everything goes wrong in front of a studio audience that thinks it is watching a real infomercial implode before its eyes as it's being taped.

Forget laughs - there aren't even any smiles here. Nor are there any in the final sketch, which features Kennedy conducting a job interview as a corporate executive who just had extensive jaw surgery. The fun is supposed to be in watching the unsuspecting young job applicant as she watches the man across the desk drool all over himself. Or maybe we're supposed to laugh when she's asked to suction the drool out of his mouth with a dental device - and complies.

That's when I really started hating JKX, because, unlike the gentle fun-poking of Candid Camera, there's a mean-spirited undertow here of debasement. How do you think this woman felt when she found out there was no job?

I hate to be cynical (honest, I do), but after seeing the junk WB puts on Sunday nights, I think the main appeal of series like this is that they are incredibly inexpensive. WB knows it's going to be slaughtered by the likes of The Simpsons, so the programming strategy is simply to save money. If we're going to lose, let's cut our costs by losing with a cheap show.

That might be a good corporate strategy, but it makes for lousy viewing.

The series airs at 8 tomorrow night on WNUV (Channel 54). My advice for 8 tomorrow night: If you get the Bravo cable channel, watch Inside the Actor's Studio. Will Smith, someone who actually has done some cutting-edge work, is the guest of host James Lipton.

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