Sunday, August 9, 2009

Review: Michael & Michael Have Issues

Michael & Michael Have Issues is the latest project from Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter, formerly of The State, Stella, Wet Hot American Summer and a billion other projects you’ve probably heard of. It’s an odd mashup; part sketch show, part meta sitcom, and it’s hard to tell if it really works or not.

The premise is that Black and Showalter have their own standard-issue sketch comedy show, and about 2/3rds of each episode is basically a sitcom that takes place behind the scenes of their fake sketch show. Black and Showalter play “themselves” as the two worst bosses in the world. Black plays a totally unlikable self-obsessed, petty asshole, and Showalter is kind of a smarmy self-obsessed petty asshole, and the gag is that when they’re not busy being awful while ripping eachother down and fighting constantly, they’re being awful while running down the staff and making their lives miserable.

Interrupting that are the sketches that are supposed to comprise the show they’re working on, and notably, these are the only segments with a laugh track. They’re pretty hit-and-miss but the hits are funny and the misses are never offensively bad. They’re definitely not the focus of the series, though, and often they don’t seem to have endings (a’la most SNL sketches and a lot of other sketch comedy so that’s not a dealbreaker). A handful of them do appear to be satirizing bad sketch comedy, but the tone of the show is all over the place, so it’s hard to tell.

But the selling point here is clearly intended to be the sitcom stuff, and while it’s important to point out that it’s not an entirely laugh-free experience, Black and Showalter have committed to the “these two guys are the most unbelievable assholes on the planet” thing so much that it’s hard to find what they’re doing funny rather than just kind of annoying and terrible. Once they settle into a rhythm, you know what’s next – Black will always do the most selfish thing possible in any given situation, and Showalter will always lie to someone’s face and backstab them later. They’re passive-aggressively mean to one another until one of them snaps and starts yelling and then the other one starts yelling and maybe there’s a fistfight or something. Both of them are absolutely spot-on perfect playing these characters, but they might be too good at it.

"Comedy of the Cringe-Inducingly Awkward" has become increasingly popular over the last few years, with the rise of shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Office, but the secret behind those shows is that you don’t outright hate the lead character in spite of how awkward and ridiculous they are; they have some redeeming moments. Michael and Michael Have Issues pushes that character type to its absolute limit, and while sometimes it produces some funny moments, overall it’s more ‘unpleasant’ than ‘great comedy’. Black and Showalter are two very funny guys who have produced a lot of great material over the years, so if this is an attempt at pushing the envelope to dangerous new places, then more power to ‘em. It just happens to be more cringe than laugh. Which might be the point. It's tough to say.

The show’s website is here and new episodes are running at 10:30pm Wednesdays on Comedy Central. It’s worth checking out if you’re a fan of the leads and if you’re interested in something that may well be experimental rather than simply funny.

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