I Like to Watch

What qualifies as Pretty Damn Funny? "South Park" -- but, sadly, not "Arrested Development." Plus: The most demonic behavior ever captured on reality TV.

By Heather Havrilesky
Published December 4, 2003 10:18PM (EST)

Tracy takes on ...
"Saturday Night Live" veteran Tracy Morgan was never roll-in-the-aisles funny on that show, but between his tweaked, pouty delivery and the absurd glee of skits like "Astronaut Jones," he managed to at least bring a little original weirdness to an increasingly predictable venue.

Morgan left "SNL" in August, not to pursue a mediocre film career like so many other "SNL" veterans, but to pursue a mediocre TV career instead. Fortunately, "The Tracy Morgan Show," which premiered Tuesday night, is a lot better than at least half of the sitcoms on the air right now.

Unfortunately, though, that's not saying much. Just to put it into perspective, the supposed hit of CBS's season "Two and a Half Men" -- it's the one with Charlie Sheen and a smart-mouthed kid -- features jokes so hackneyed and story lines so strained in their pursuit of wacky mayhem that it's practically unwatchable.

"The Tracy Morgan Show" is uneven and often contrived, but Morgan is pretty likable as a dad, and the writing at least has teeth, particularly when he's delivering words of wisdom to his kids. In one scene, he sits shy son Derrick (Marc John Jefferies) down to warn him against chasing a girl at school who is about a foot taller than he is, and who hit puberty years ago. "Look, before your mother, I knew this girl named Maria," he says. "She was my very first girlfriend. Prettiest girl in the projects. Everybody said she was too beautiful for me. But I loved her, I was in love. Then one day, Maria got shot in the neck."

Morgan is great delivering blunt lines like this one, and the blank look on the kid's face seals the deal. Sure, that old ghetto-background thing has been worn pretty thin by "Good Times" wannabes. But Morgan did grow up in the 'hood, so what do you want him to do? Pretend to be a white, middle-aged Jewish woman from Queens?

Of course, the real reason to check out this show is for the younger kid, the little smartass ready to give Arnold and Webster a run for their money. See how much people miss the '80s, that they long for a wisecracking black boy to lead them? Bobb'e J. Thompson is up to the task, though, so much so that not only didn't I mind that he was spewing adult witticisms, soon I was hungering for increasingly sophisticated quips. Have him spout Shakespeare, I don't care! The kid is a riot.

Wait -- why is he going to his room? Get him back out here! We need him!

America's little poodle pumpkin
Nothing is all that funny these days, let's face it. Even "Arrested Development," which everyone seems to love and adore and cherish like a lost puppy, is just kinda funny. OK, last week I called it pretty damn funny, but I had probably just eaten something sugary.

"Pretty damn funny" should be reserved for shows that make you laugh out loud a lot: "The Office," "The Larry Sanders Show," "The View" ... Hey, did you know that America's Sweetheart just got a promotion? (Well, one of America's Sweethearts. America is such a shameless whore.) Elisabeth from "Survivor" is now the resident young hottie on "The View."

Who says "Survivor" survivors never amount to anything more than Schick razor shills and speakers on the college circuit? Of course, it helps that Elisabeth is "absolutely adorable," as one man I know put it, right before he got kicked in the shins very hard. It also helps that she's married to Redskins quarterback Tim Hasselbeck, and that she attends Redskins games with professionally applied makeup and smooth, shiny hair that looks like it's been prepped for a Pantene commercial despite the wind and weather. Cutely clad in a fur-lined camel's hair coat and a cozy black headband, America's Little Dumpling is ready for her close-up. Luckily, Fox Sports is ready for her close-up, too, and flashes close-up after close-up of America's Honey Baked Ham as she gasps and groans at her husband's gaffes. America hopes that Hasselbeck keeps struggling, in fact, so that it can keep watching America's Little Snugglemuffin pursing her glossy lips and covering her dewy eyes in her cutely mitted hands.

OK, fine. I admit it. I lost all association to the word "adorable" at age 12, my hair flies into a tangle and my nose runs freely in cold weather, and I'd sooner win a spot as an unstable neurotic on "Starting Over" than be asked to offer up perky commentary through gleaming, bleached-white teeth on "The View."

There. I'm just jealous. Are you happy now?

Losing my religion
I'm also jealous of those snarky bastards at "South Park," who continue to churn out a high-quality television product even after seven long years in the business. Whippersnappers Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who are around my age but maybe a little smarter and definitely more adorable than me (and also probably taller with less body fat and many more liquid assets as well as more dependable, long-term investments), have somehow managed to come up with absurd new stories week after week, even after all these years.

Hopefully they're cocaine addicts or steal all their best ideas from underprivileged children in Third World countries who toil in miserable conditions to dream up tales about gay culture fads and corrupt Indian casinos. Even so, "South Park" remains firmly in the realm of Pretty Damn Funny without fail, casting a shadow of doubt on those restrictive laws limiting the ability of tyrants like Parker and Stone to snort cocaine with reckless abandon while bending clever Thai street urchins to their will.

In last week's delightful new episode, a Mormon kid moves to town. When Stan visits the kid at home, his parents tell him the story of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon faith. Of course, Parker's and Stone's talents are without number, so their knack for musical theater comes as no surprise, particularly to fans of "Cannibal the Musical." Still, this Joseph Smith ballad is particularly clever, starting from the first line: "Joseph Smith was called a prophet, dum dum dum dum dum!"

In one scene, Smith tells the townspeople of the golden plates and seer stones he found.

Joseph: They were the most amazing things I had ever gazed upon!

Townsfolk No. 1: Well, so, where are they?

Joseph: Where are what?

Townsfolk No. 2: The gold plates and the seer stones! Where are they?

Joseph: Oh, well, I was not allowed to take them. You see, after I found the plates, the angel Moroni appeared to me again and said that I am not allowed to show the plates or the seer stones to anybody, because first I must translate what is written on the plates into English, so you can all read them!

Song: Dum dum dum dum dum!

Townsfolk: Wow! Amazing!

Song: He found the stones and golden plates!
Dum dum dum dum dum!
Even though nobody else ever saw them!
Dum dum dum dum dum!

Dum dum dum dum dum quote of the week
Trista and Ryan, who are about to get married on national television but who promise never to be on television ever again, even if they have a kid or get divorced or fall on hard times and need a kidney transplant, appeared on "Larry King Live" on Tuesday night.

What, you missed it? No worries, I've distilled it all down to one exchange for your convenience.

Ryan: We have extremely different diets and I always am trying to get her to eat more vegetables, and she tells me how much she likes corn. And corn isn't a vegetable but she's grown up her whole entire life thinking that it is!

Larry King: Corn isn't a vegetable?

Ryan: It's a starch, like potatoes.

Larry King: When I look at corn, I think vegetable, but OK.

Dippy lies when he cries
Politely bending the truth gave way to full-blown, shameless lies on "Survivor" this week, courtesy of none other than Dippy Wrongstockings. Everyone from loyal fans to God-fearing bystanders were appalled by Dippy's latest antics, which easily qualify as the most demonic behavior ever captured on a reality show.

For those who weren't watching the show last Wednesday night and haven't walked past the office water cooler for several days, that creepy guy Jon who, just for the record, I've always hated", told one of the most unsettling lies ever, a lie so bold it would make most normal humans with blood flowing through their veins flinch visibly, waiting for God to strike them down.

Basically, the survivors' loved ones visited the islands, and when Dippy's friend showed up, he informed Dippy that his grandmother had passed away. Dippy was immediately doubled over with grief, and all of the contestants decide to join together and make sure that Dippy won the challenge so that he could spend time with his friend and learn more about his grandmother's untimely demise.

You know what's coming by now, but I'll spell it out anyway for the slow ones in the bunch. Everyone got really worked up and emotional over Dippy's loss. Many of the female players had tears in their eyes, and Lill wept openly to the camera, going on and on about how awful she felt for the poor little Dipster.

Cut to Dippy and his lame friend, laughing it up over the fact that Dippy's grandmother is alive and well and "watching Jerry Springer right now," according to Dippy.

Since Dippy isn't satisfied with spending eternity burning in the red-hot fires of hell and would also like to be eaten alive by rats and pulled limb from limb by an angry mob, he convinced Sandra and Christie to vote Tijuana off instead of his ally Burton, gaining their trust -- how else? -- by swearing on his grandmother's grave.

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, This guy sounds like the best thing that ever happened to "Survivor." And I admire your plucky spirit, I really do. But you really don't know how awful this guy is. Just to put it into perspective, I liked Richard Hatch. I thought he was a lot of fun, and I supported every evil and deceptive move he made, particularly toward the end when Greg and Colleen were long gone. I even enjoyed Susan, the mean, trash-talking truckdriver.

But Dippy is frightening and repugnant and awful. I just hope he doesn't get kicked off anytime soon.

In: lying; Five minutes ago: white lies; Out: honesty
Following this hip new lying trend, Melana of "Average Joe" slipped on a fat suit and pretended to be her own cousin, just to see how the four supposedly great guys she's been dating might act if she happened to gain somewhere between five and a 100 pounds after a few years of marriage.

The results were pure televised pleasure. Mike made eye contact with the fat cousin often, but Adam, Jason and Zach hardly looked in her direction at all. What's more, a hidden camera revealed the ever-sharp Adam commenting that the fat cousin looked like Monica from "Friends" when she was overweight in high school. While the other two guys were perfectly polite, Zach finally showed his true dickhead colors, calling the cousin Melana's "Designated Ugly Fat Friend," or DUFF. Later, in a moment of high comedy befitting an "Austin Powers" movie, the fat cousin appeared and ripped off her mask revealing -- gasp! -- Melana, who's really hot and skinny and doesn't deserve to be ignored!

The men were appropriately horrified, but Melana still booted Mike, the kindest of the bunch, most likely because he has the charm of a parsnip. Next, thankfully, Zach got the boot, and afterward whined like a "Judge Judy" guest about how it was totally no-fair since showing "guys talking to guys" was "not reality." Of course, Zach spends most of his time in this unreal state, which makes him a total freak show, but also the perfect guest for "The Man Show." Indeed, there's a special place for all of TV's pathetic little orphans, Virginia. Don't feel sad for them!

Don't feel sad for NBC, either. It may have cast aside its ethics, Fox-style, but "Average Joe" drew in a staggeringly high number of viewers on Monday night.

The moral of this story? The bigger the lie, the better the ratings. Just think, soon the idiot box will be filled with nothing but lies, just like your schizophrenic uncle always said it was!

Heather Havrilesky

Heather Havrilesky is a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine, The Awl and Bookforum, and is the author of the memoir "Disaster Preparedness." You can also follow her on Twitter at @hhavrilesky.

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