Not long after ABC announced a 13-episode order for this series, rumblings began that the show was in trouble because it didn't have a concept. And up until a few weeks ago, it still didn't have a concept. That attitude will probably be its strength as well as its weakness: Series may seem too loose and goofy to attract masses of Saturday night viewers, but cult status seems assured.
Not long after ABC announced a 13-episode order for this series, rumblings began that the show was in trouble because it didn’t have a concept. And up until a few weeks ago, it still didn’t have a concept. That attitude will probably be its strength as well as its weakness: Series may seem too loose and goofy to attract masses of Saturday night viewers, but cult status seems assured.The series, obviously still forming, is a mixture of standup comedy, ad-libs, latenight-style elements and vague sendups of TV conventions. In the premiere episode, there were no sketches and no name guests — just Poundstone chatting to the camera and interacting with the audience and a few ABC executives. The roving studio camera and off-the-wall bits may invite comparisons to MTV or “Late Night With David Letterman,” but show has its own voice because host Poundstone is such an original. The hour begins with a short, funny tour of her home (such as a peek at the many tiny shampoo bottles she’s collected during her 14 years of standup). Series then moves to the studio, where such seemingly random elements as performances from the femme a capella group Mint Julep and occasional tips on recycling are all tied loosely — very loosely — with her chats with audience members. Show’s looniness hits its peak as Poundstone, in the studio, interviews via satellite four economists who are riding spinning cups at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and who shout out answers to her questions such as “Should the government regulate private business?” (Lest things even approach seriousness, a barbershop quartet sings as they also ride the spinning cups.) As a Halloween treat, Sam Donaldson reads from Maurice Sendak. (“I don’t know how we tricked Sam Donaldson into this,” Poundstone later wonders.) Art Wolff directs and there are a slew of producers and writers listed. It’s impossible to tell who contributed what. In truth, much of the opening hour doesn’t work too well. But, in truth, it’s not important. ABC gets an A+ for its adventurousness and, unlike most new primetime shows, this one has the potential for creating some really memorable TV. As anyone who’s seen her cable specials can attest, the gangly, scratchy-voiced Poundstone is a good standup and a brilliant ad-libber. While the hour length is ambitious, the program represents the strengths of the performer herself: Both show and star are likable, attractive, iconoclastic and exceedingly bright under a seemingly fuzzy facade. Show is not yet polished; with luck, it never will be.