Funny and the Bunny

Fox keeps its place as best and worst network with three new shows

There is no better network than Fox; there is no worse network than Fox. For every great series it offers, it counters with programming so puerile and sophomoric it threatens to undo its promise and, in the end, bring about the ruin of civilization--which is no hyperbolic generalization if you were dumb or unlucky enough to catch The Chamber or Glutton Bowl, the latter of which made people on both sides of the screen vomit up half-digested mayonnaise. And in coming weeks, we'll be subjected to more of the same ol' (literal) shit: From the network that brought you Darva Conger and Rick Rockwell comes Tonya Harding and Paula Jones duking it out for petty cash as part of the network's so-called celebrity boxing tournament, which also pits Greg Brady against Danny Partridge. Suggested tagline: Everybody's a loser. That, or: Fuck you, America.

Fox is perceptive enough to air a show like Judd Apatow's Undeclared, or Freaks and Geeks goes to college, but craven enough to cut that series' episode order and leave its future dangling till May. It picks up such shows as Action or American High or Pasadena or The Tick, then gives them but a few weeks to find their audiences (who are too busy watching the dreck on other networks); in a business of cowards and imbeciles, Fox's programming execs might be confused with jellyfish. Yet at its best, it's still the best: The Bernie Mac Show offers equal doses of humor and anger, rendering it the most realistic show this side of, well, your actual life; Grounded for Life takes a generic formula and scrabbles the equation till it seems brand-new; 24 provides nonstop thrills, when it's on. Fox is so schizophrenic it oughta be locked up in a padded cell; Sybil was more on the ball.

Replacing Undeclared, at least for the moment, is Andy Richter Controls the Universe, which might be considered outright brilliant if it didn't lift its entire gimmick from Herman's Head, Inside Schwartz, Ally McBeal and any other show in which half of what you see onscreen takes place only inside the fevered imagination of its main character. Blessedly, the show's well-crafted: The cast's top-notch (the former Conan O'Brien sidekick's surrounded by Paget Brewster, who's very breasty; James Patrick Stuart, handsome on the outside and the inside; Jonathan Slavin, endearing dork; and Irene Molloy, hoi polloi!), the writing's sharp as a knife plunged into one's back, and the tiresome fantasy-life gimmick doesn't seem so intrusive or hackneyed as a result. Of the three episodes sent for review, the third's the best--and not just because it's about the hottest anti-Semite this side of Eva Braun (who was attractive, right?).

Andy Richter may control the universe, but thank God he's got good help to keep him in check.
Andy Richter may control the universe, but thank God he's got good help to keep him in check.

Details

The American Embassy airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on Fox. Andy Richter Controls the Universe debuts March 19 at 7:30 p.m. Greg the Bunny debuts March 27 at 8:30 p.m.

But the net's other new offerings smell like something vomited up by a Glutton Bowl contestant: Greg the Bunny, starring Eugene Levy as the director of a struggling kiddie show, is little more than a watered-down variation of Peter Jackson's 1989 film Meet the Feebles, in which puppets act just like humans by screwing around, sucking down booze and shooting up smack. Greg's puppets are cuter and far more civilized; their main threat is the "fleshies," the humans who treat the so-called fabricated Americans like, well, rag dolls. But the writing's dreadful (there's an Anna Nicole Smith joke, for God's sake), and the execution's worse; who would've thought so original an idea (for TV, anyway) could feel so fetid? At least The American Embassy offers no pretense of novelty: It's Ally McWest Wing in the City--which is London, in this case, where a jilted Emma Brody (Arija Bareikis) lands a gig as vice consul at the U.S. Embassy. (From the people who brought you Elvis: The Early Years and Suddenly Susan--where's my TV gig?) In the pilot, it takes Bareikis all of 20 minutes to attract five love interests--which might be interesting if Bareikis didn't give the distinct impression she's reading off cue cards missing every other vowel. Damnit, TV sucks. What else is on?

 
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