Rhett & Link: Commercial Kings debuts tonight on IFC at 10 p.m. Eastern.

Young, Broke, And Beautiful debuts tonight on IFC at 11 p.m. Eastern.

Life is full of its little surprises. When I embarked on a two-fer review of IFC’s new Friday night block of original half-hour programming, I expected to abhor Commercial Kings and get addicted to Young, Broke & Beautiful. Things didn’t exactly turn out the other way around, but they certainly strayed from my expectations.

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Stray is the operative word here when it comes to “Cats & Dogs,” the premiere episode of viral video/low-budget advertising gurus Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal’s docu-series, Commercial Kings. The tandem has gained mainstream repute for breakout YouTube clips like “Facebook Song” and its “T-Shirt War” campaign  for McDonald’s and Coke. But the concept that sold IFC was the I Love Local Commercials series, which attempted to boost small businesses by producing a more polished and effective update of your average regional television spot.

What’s so refreshing—and what I didn’t see coming—about Commercial Kings is that it successfully sheds the ironic context of local-advertising culture, which, in this viral age, has become the world’s most commonplace in-joke. On the contrary, “Cats & Dogs” feels like more of an intimate, process-oriented documentary about two pet-shelter businesses—Holiday Hotel for Cats and (wait for it) Super Shmuttle—looking to survive in a dog-eat-dog economy but lacking in resources what they offer in eccentric energy. The hook, of course, is that each episode concludes with Rhett and Link debuting finished ads for us and the business owners. In “Cats & Dogs,” that means a clever take on Hotel for Cats owner Margaret’s telepathic connection to her felines, and a satirical dog-owner guilt trip to help get canines in the back of Shmuttle owner Judy’s van. It’s essentially a Tosh.0 Web Redemption without the mean-spirited pretense (much as I love those Tosh segments for what they are) and is more concerned with, and accomplished at, aiding its subjects as opposed to just adding to their notoriety.

This likely all stems from the fact that Rhett and Link are experienced directors and were hands-on throughout production of “Cats & Dogs.” Which could also give some insight into what makes its Friday-evening counterpart, Young, Broke & Beautiful, so disappointing. Hosted by creator and travel writer/blogger Stuart Schuffman, aka “Broke Ass Stuart,” the concept is its strongest asset: Man travels America for cheap eats, affordable good times, and the parts of each city that most tourists never see nor know exist. What could possibly go wrong?

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For starters, Stuart himself is a rough sell on camera, even though the series premiere eases him in by taking place in his hometown of San Diego. Maybe it’s a West Coast thing, but I don’t really get or relate to the whole sideways newsboy hat/flavor savor/fingerless gloves look or the grown-up-skater enthusiasm that goes along with it. Admittedly, I am a militant East Coast advocate, but I don’t know that it should be OK on either side of the country to eagerly read-back lines like, “Danger’s not my middle name. It’s ass, remember?” which sounds more like something out of a Zucker Abrahams-Zucker film than a questionably tongue-in-cheek remark by an actual human being. The show's most similar forebear is probably Dave Attell's Insomniac, if you replaced that Comedy Central classic's self-loathing, seedy New Yorker point of view with Schuffman's uniquely Californian, optimistic vigor. Which, at least to my ears, sounds like a terrible idea.

As far as Young, Broke & Beautiful's format goes, remember that scene in Half-Baked when Dave Chappelle had to stretch out eight bucks over the course of an entire afternoon date and broke the fourth wall to update a helpful cash-flow counter on the bottom of the screen? It’s like that, but for 30 minutes, and with the helpful perk of Schuffman’s access behind the scenes of destinations like U-31 Bar, where his childhood friend Gaslamp Killer is the DJ, or Chicano Park, where famed outdoor muralist Mario Torrero gives him a guided overview of the outsider-art landmark.

The problem is that this initial installment of Young, Broke & Beautiful comes off less as a rogue-warrior journey into San Diego’s heart of darkness than privileged cultural tourism. It’s hard to imagine that entry into U-31 to see an established DJ would be gratis for the common person, and it’s certainly difficult to understand how a $300 navigational tattoo of San Diego fulfills the “broke” tenet of Schuffman’s motto. Or the "beautiful" one for that matter.

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The show’s debut isn’t without its high points. A trip to the Tijuana border and its accompanying history lesson led to new and fascinating insight for a Northeasterner like myself, and the gourmet street food Schuffman devoured while on the city’s outskirts was like nothing I’d ever seen on Man vs. Food. I have glimpsed a couple future episodes of YB&B, and things do pick up as Schuffman heads to locales like the deepest southern swamplands of Louisiana, although they still never remain totally authentic to the title’s laymen conceit.

My recommendation? Definitely check out Commercial Kings. The quality of its production overcomes what might seem like a pretentious gimmick, and it will put a big, fat smile on your face. As for Young, Broke & Beautiful, any program that attempts to open our eyes beyond strip malls and Bourbon Streets has intrinsic value. I just wonder if IFC hitched their adventure-seeking wagon to the most appealing star.

Grades:

Rhett & Link: B+

Young, Broke, & Beautiful: C+

Stray observations:

  • Was I the only who thought Judy the dog lady on Commercial Kings was basically the long-lost twin of that hippie merry-go-round lady from Tosh.0
  • Copraphagia. Ewwwww.
  • Cats going apeshit, as Margaret the “hotel” owner suggested, seems a bit implausible.
  • As I’ve mentioned, I am what you might call leery of California and its subculture, and that band Heavy Hawaii featured on Young, Broke and Beautiful did absolutely nothing to make me want to hop on a cross-country flight any time soon.
  • Speaking of that band, if I were their manager, I’d be infuriated with them after seeing that episode.
  • Always good to know what ex-members of the Locust are up to, besides developing an uncanny resemblance to Adam Lambert.
  • A non-winking “I’d tell ya but I’d have to kill ya” joke? Really?

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