Right Hook, Weak Punch

My liberal-leaning but nevertheless open-minded self sat down on Sunday night to watch The 1?2 Hour News Hour, Fox News Channel’s fledgling conservative-tinged news satire show, with the idea that I was going to take my lumps as a Daily Show enjoyer and hopefully laugh at the foibles — and there are plenty — of what I guess I would call “my side.” What riled me, though, wasn’t the politics per se, but the laziness on display, the sense that the show was propelled by the right’s bugaboos more than the drive for an honest laugh. It had the desperate air of the oft-taunted pipsqueak flailing his arms in a hapless fight with an obviously dominating presence (easily mocked Bush administration failings) — and, frankly, self-respecting Republicans everywhere who are used to their bully status in the political realm should be cringing at this undercooked counterattack in the comedy arena.

Howard Dean getting much-needed medical attention — as Rush Limbaugh stated in his from-the-future-when-I’m-president bit that opened the show — isn’t a joke. It’s a conservative position: Dean is nuts. But what kind of medical attention? Where? An inciting incident, perhaps? Details might make this a joke. It’s like a comedian tossing out “Bush is soooo dumb .?.?.” and never answering when the audience responds “How dumb is he?” (Bush, incidentally, isn’t mentioned the whole half-hour, which is probably the funniest thing about the show.) In any case, the last time I checked, just agreeing with somebody isn’t funny. But even with the half-there gags in the “Weekend Update”–style bulk of the show, with its stern-faced co-anchors — Barack Obama having his own magazine, called BO, or a guest who can connect global warming to any societal problem in six steps or less — the timing is variety-show hamminess and the vibe is more “See? See?” instead of the deft cultural dismantling of up-to-the-minute institutional ridiculousness that warrants enlightened laughter. I mean, ACLU jokes? Did the zinger well on hippies run dry?

All in all, maybe these are just the birth pains of screaming and disorientation for 24 producers Joel Surnow and Manny Coto before they learn to take in what’s actually going on in the world around them — on all sides, since The Daily Show has plenty of right and left targets to prick — and filter it into funny. And if it fails, I promise I won’t blame global warming.

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