Lewis Black can come off a little shrill and one note on The Daily Show. In his "Back In Black" segments he's all deafening volume and comically over-the-top rage but he is an absolutely brilliant stand-up comedian, as evidenced by his various stand-up specials. Some comedians are lucky enough to move effortlessly from one medium to the next, your Seinfelds and Woody Allens and whatnot. Then there are guys like Lewis Black and Chris Rock, who are genius comedians and pretty good at plenty of other things. There's nothing wrong with that. Stand-up is their medium. Everything else is clearly just another paycheck.
If Black's shtick is watered down on his still-funny Daily Show appearances he's reduced to shrill self-caricature on his gimmicky new vehicle, Lewis Black's Root Of All Evil. The premise is as simple as it is silly: two comedians debate the relative evil of various barn-door-sized satirical targets before Judge Black on a loud, giant set that looks like it was left over from a doomed incarnation of American Gladiators.
Given Black's Daily Show connections and vaunted reputation it shouldn't be too hard to line up all sorts of ringers as pop culture lawyers so it's a little strange that the first episode features Paul F. Tomkins and Greg Giraldo debating The Catholic Church versus Oprah Winfrey while the second episode pits finds Andy Kindler and, uh, Greg Giraldo debating the merits of slippery satirical targets Viagra and Donald Trump. I know Comedy Central purchased Giraldo's eternal soul and that of his first-born for bargain prices a few years back but that doesn't make his ubiquity here any less puzzling.
It's not a bad format necessarily but the first two episodes travel a depressingly predictable path, with both comedians heading straight for the most obvious jokes and points of attack. Boy that Oprah's weight sure does fluctuate! She's a bit of a porker! Boy, those priests sure do like to fuck little boys! Root Of All Evil has the potential to be both funny and insightful but the first two episodes were largely devoid of laughs or insight. Tompkins scared up some chuckles by comparing Oprah to Hitler but the audience responded to every weak one-liner and lame punchline with uproarious, orgasmic laughter. Root Of All Evil boasts one of those annoying studio audiences that sounds unmistakably like a braying laugh track and the set's a huge eyesore that's so relentlessly modern it already looks dated.
How disconcerting is it that a show like this resorts to Viagra and Donald Trump in its very second episode? Did they pick their topics from a list of the most abused joke topics of the last decade? Cause I'm pretty sure those would both rank really fucking high. Then there's the opening credit sequence, which gave me serious Spitting Image flashbacks. That is most definitely not a good thing.
I really hope Root Of All Evil finds its feet in upcoming episodes. Because in its current form the show is a terrible showcase for both Black and his guests. But what do I know? This thing is getting great reviews so maybe there's an untapped market for convoluted shows that take on hoary topics in cheesy, unsatisfying ways. And Viagra jokes! Who doesn't love Viagra jokes? It's totally a pill that gives you boners? The comic possibilities are endless! For now if you want to see Black or Giraldo or Tompkins or Kindler at their best go to one of their stand-up performances. They're all really fucking good at that. Playing wacky judges and zany pop-culture lawyers? To paraphrase the patron saint of Comedy Central cut-ups, eh, not so much.
Grade: C- Stray Observations– –Whatever happened to Black's spin-off Red State Diaries? I can't imagine it being worse than this. –Seriously, what's up with that set? It was giving me a headache.