(Premieres tonight at 11 p.m. ET)
Frank Caliendo seems like a nice guy. A nice guy who has paid his dues in the sketch-comedy world. A nice guy who can do decent impressions of a large stock of characters whose various tics lend themselves to imitation (Jack Nicholson, Bill Clinton, Robert De Niro). A nice guy with a god-awful TV show.
Frank TV operates under the outdated premise that people can be entertained for a full half-hour by impressions and little else. While there's nothing inherently wrong with impression-based comedy, it tends to do better when it wanders into the absurd. Caliendo's method of placing his characters in cliche-ridden, humdrum circumstances (the cast of Seinfeld 20 years later; Hollywood Squares featuring–you guessed it–dumb celebrities; a leering Bill Clinton giving a tour of his library-slash-frat house, which is of course stocked with the complete collection of the Kama Sutra) is boring at best, and painfully unfunny at worst (the Clinton sketch being a low point.) The only sketches with a glimmer of originality are those featuring Caliendo's John Madden, perhaps because he's been bludgeoning the character on FOX NFL Sunday for years and is now forced to look further for inspiration.
Another huge problem is that all of Caliendo's impressions rely on amplifying the most annoying tendencies of his subjects. Jerry Seinfeld's roiling cadence is rendered a hysterical yell. Caliendo's take Dick Cheney's squinty eyes and proclivity for talking out the side of his mouth makes him looks like a stroke victim. As for anything beyond Caliendo's range, such as, um, women, he just throws on a dress and hopes for the best. (Elaine Benes has never been so terrifying.) Subtlety is never an option. In theory, Caliendo's laid-back real-life persona should provide a counterpoint during the between-sketch bits, but his monologues seem even more drab by comparison.
The segments between sketches that feature Caliendo "chatting" with the audience land somewhere between forced, awkward camaraderie and ostensibly off-the-cuff improv, providing opportunity for a couple more half-assed impressions (gee, Frank, what would it be like if Robin Williams wandered on the set?). Then, halfway through the show, Caliendo inexplicably asks a random audience member to join him as his co-host, a pairing that's supposedly meant to provide a straight man for the star's "wackiness," but results in some of the most uncomfortable man-on-man interaction I've ever witnessed. This is not alleviated when Caliendo points out his new friend's awkwardness and then lays his head in the poor man's lap, only to quickly jump back and scream "HA HA JUST KIDDING I'M NOT GAY" (that last part was screamed with his eyes).
The show strives for a variety-show-like format, transitioning between sketches and monologue with awkward segues such as this little number:
Caliendo: "Now I'm sure a lot of you are expecting me to do a John Madden sketch tonight. We're just not gonna do that, I think I've done him too much."
Audience: [moans of despair]
Caliendo: "Oh, but we do have him backstage."
Audience: [sighs of relief]
Caliendo: "Yeah, he's making a Thanksgiving dinner for all of us to enjoy at the end of the show. Hey John, how's the turkey coming?"
[cue Caliendo's taped Madden bit]
This bit, like any of the bits featuring Caliendo taking on more than one role (pretty much all of them) suffer from clumsy pacing that does nothing to redeem the already lackluster material. The cuts between his different "characters" are sluggish, adding to the sense of awkwardness. While his supposed ability to fill every role in the show is Caliendo's gimmick, Frank TV would be better served by a supporting cast that could allow for real dialogue, rather than having to rely on green-screen gimmickry. Acknowledge your limitations, Frank. Confront them. Share that sweet TBS money with some professional actor-types (lord knows it won't be around much longer at this rate).
(To be fair, there were some supporting players in this episode–like that black guy who wandered onscreen and stood there silently for a few beats–who could end up being recurring cast members. But none of them did much except provide a quick setup and then move aside for The Caliendo.)
I feel little bad being so harsh on Caliendo; as mentioned earlier, he seems like a genuinely nice guy who appears to like what he does. But no matter how earnest he is, he can't make up for bad writing, poor production, and what very well may be a completely unsalvageable premise.
–A sketch featuring Caliendo, movie-trailer voiceover artist Don LaFontaine, and some other guy performing as the "three tenors of movie trailers" seemed a little familiar. Shouldn't LaFontaine have mentioned, "Hey Frank, I kinda already did something like this, except it was funny."
–Caliendo's Charles Barkley impression, if nothing else, shows exactly how much fake tanner one can apply without crossing the line into blackface.
–The show's 11 p.m. timeslot places it in the late-night category, which could allow for a little line-toeing, but Frank TV's bland inoffensiveness warrants no such leeway. The show could probably air just as comfortably at 3 p.m. Watch yourself, DeGeneres.
–A fun fact (well, maybe just a fact): An impressionist is someone who mimics the mannerisms of a wide variety of characters, while an impersonator is someone who imitates one person continually, a look-alike. Thank you, Wikipedia.
–No seriously you guys, this show is really bad.