The seven people who were still watching “Twin Peaks” when its TV run ended won’t be disappointed by the side-splittingly odd premiere of this David Lynch and Mark Frost comedy, though their numbers will dwindle by at least a half-dozen after the dreadful second episode.
ABC is clearly just burning off the show by putting it on the air Saturdays over the summer, which is a shame only because the bizarre pilot is a keeper for Lynch-o-philes and anyone else with a taste for the twisted.
A combination of “Peaks”-esque weirdness (a midget stagehand, Siamese twins, a European director who speaks garbled English) and broad slapstick comedy, “On the Air’s” first episode– which was directed by Lynch– focuses on the premiere of variety series “The Lester Guy Show” on the cut-rate Zoblotnick Broadcasting Corp. network, circa 1957.
With evil executive Bud Budwaller (Miguel Ferrer) storming around the set and his hapless producer (Marvin Kaplan) fearing the worst, the show engages in an absurd run-through before Kafka-like live airing where everything goes fabulously awry.
Ian Buchanan is appropriately foppish as the show’s host, but it’s stultifyingly dense costar Betty Hudson (Marla Jeanette Rubinoff) who steals America’s hearts by warbling a song while all hell’s breaking loose.
Lynch and Frost again exhibit a wonderfully esoteric flair for the bizarre that’s both very funny and not-ready-for-prime time, in much the same way that David Letterman’s essence could hardly be distilled into a sitcom.
Still, while such indulgences can be brooked in latenight TV or features, where a small niche cult following can support high-brow directors and oddball talent, there’s simply little room for them in the mass-appeal, homogenizing world of prime time broadcasting.
In addition, Lynch and Frost still can’t seem to protect their initial vision once they pass the ball on to others, as the numbing flatness of the second episode–which involves a plot inspired by the ’50s quiz-show scandals–painfully demonstrates.
Technical credits are superb from the usual suspects, including composer Angelo Badalamenti’s silly score, Okowita’s production design and some very elaborate stuntwork for a filmed half-hour.
Now that Lynch has had his way with both the hour and half-hour genres, the director of such features as “Blue Velvet,””Eraserhead” and “Wild at Heart” can at least say he’s had an affair with TV. Many thanks from the mistress, but from now on it’s probably best to stay faithful to the wife.