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MICHAEL & MICHAEL HAVE ISSUES (Comedy Central)
(Wednesdays at 10:30/9:30c starting tonight)
The network's description: "BFF's or worst enemies? Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter banter and bicker in their new COMEDY CENTRAL series "Michael & Michael Have Issues" debuting Wednesday, July 15 at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT. "Michael & Michael Have Issues" stars Black and Showalter in a new twist on narrative and sketch comedies that features the long-time comedic partners as the hosts of their own fictitious sketch show. In the seven episode series, sketches will be interspersed throughout the narrative thread of each episode. Behind-the-scenes of the show-within-a-show, viewers will get a first hand look at issues, both big (in an attempt to broaden their appeal, the guys turn their show into a frat house spectacle) and small (the two Michaels fight over the approval of a teenage intern writing an article about them for his high school newspaper) that the two misguided stars wrestle with as they confront their own issues of insecurity and jealousy as each attempts to undermine the other. Other issues in the series include roommate rivalry when the "Michaels" secure a college gig, playing Cupid for an unlucky-in-love co-worker and what birthday gift to give the boss who has everything."
What did they leave out? That about covers it.
The plot in a nutshell: In a Russian nesting doll of meta, married-with-kids Michael Ian Black and single-with-cat Michael Showalter play exaggerated versions of themselves who are in turn hosts of a sketch comedy series entitled "Michael & Michael Have Issues." Our "Michael & Michael Have Issues" then features a mixture of sketches from that show as well as its behind-the-scenes shenanigans involving Mike, Mike and their producer Jim Biederman (Josh Pais, playing an exaggerated version of the real Jim Biederman). Got that? (It sounds more confusing on paper.) The opener ("Greg the Intern") sees Mike and Mike trying to make themselves appear the genius/the other the useless appendage in an article by their intern for his high school newspaper. The following week ("Biederman's Birthday," airing July 22) the aforementioned cycle repeats itself after some poor advice by Showalter gets Black arrested for trying to buy pot from an undercover cop. Really in terms of a plot that's just about it. On the sketch front, the offerings range from stage pieces ("The F-N-C Word") to filmed parodies ("Fatal Sweater IV," complete with nonsensical Christopher Meloni cameo) to ancillary bits ("The Farting Butterfly Sketch").
What works: If you're fans of Black and Showalter already, the show is pretty much preaching to the converted. Each play the assuredly clueless with a mix of deadpan and innocence that's infectious ("For those of you who don't know what a platitude is," Black remarks during the show-within-a-show. "It's a platypus with an attitude.") while their games of one-up-manship give them ample opportunity to ratchet up the crazy (my favorite being a shirtless non-fight in Black's front yard). It's also nice to see Black and Showalter conform to a more episodic structure after the free-flowing weirdness that was "Stella," as (at least in the pilot) the sketches run concurrent with their off-screen creation, cementing yet another fun meta layer to the proceedings. And while the sketches themselves seem to miss (let's just say that "Gift Giving Through History" didn't need a Part 2) more than hit (Black plays a closeted teen that's all about abstinence pledges), there's a breezy charm to them that's somewhere between unabashedly childish and knowingly subversive.
What doesn't: The second episode doesn't quite match the first in terms of having a coherent story as Black and Showalter's foibles start to blend into the background. The end result then is just a collection of mostly ho-hum, unrelated sketches, a development which seems to run counter to all the meta legwork established in the pilot. After all, part of the opener's charm was seeing how "Issues" was a living, breathing thing - whether it be how a discussion of a particular sketch leads to more escalation between the Mikes or how a sketch can simply springboard from that week's issues. In other words, we got to see (and forgive the obvious turn of a phrase here) both sides of "Issues" - how the show was made and how it affected those who made it. Regardless of how things shake out, "Issues" is very much a product of those involved so...
The bottom line: ...if you're a Black/Showalter fan you're already on board. If you're not, there's not much here that's going to change your mind.