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Misses outnumber hits in "Michael and Michael"

By Randee Dawn

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter, they of the deadpan expressions and boy-man personas, are two great near-misses in modern American comedy.

They've been trying to sell the general public on their surreal, sketch comedy genius for about 20 years, starting with MTV's "The State" -- an underrated, delightful gem -- and more recently Comedy Central's "Stella." Someone somewhere knows that one of these days, this pair is gonna steam the pants off the funny business.

But Comedy Central's "Michael and Michael Have Issues," their latest surreal sketch comedy series, probably won't do it. The elements are there: a trendy meta-show concept, lightning-fast scene changes, the are-they-serious passive-aggressive bromance between the two. The pilot consists of the two Michaels vying for the attention of an intern who wants to write a story for his school paper; the two men (loosely called so) pick at each other until, somehow inevitably, they end up shirtless on Black's front lawn and feint until they exhaust themselves.

That's a great moment, but others are harder to find, couched in tiresome packaging and dulled by dated concepts. Abstinence-pledge humor is so 2006, but a faux PSA featuring a fey, bewigged Black as devoted to abstinence with his teen girlfriend (but planning to ride cross-country with his gym buddy) overrides that flaw. "Bob the Quiet Weatherman" is a simply wonderful piece of absurdity. Butterfly farting and a horror movie trailer (despite Christopher Meloni's cameo)? Not so much.

In the end, despite frenetic jump-cuts and abrupt scene changes and attempts to goose the "story," the 21 minutes devoted to actual "MMHI" content feels like twice that. The pacing might be anarchical, but that doesn't mean it can't plod; the off-the-wall style aims for a current "Monty Python" but misses the mark.

The Michaels have proved they have raw material in spades. Thus far, they haven't been able to harness it and make it consistently funny. For now, "MMHI's" real issue is that it's likely to be just another in a string of missed opportunities.

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