Taped in New York by MTV. Executive producer, Jeremiah Bosgang; producer, Rich Brown; director, Kit Carson; head writer, Steve Korn; lighting designer, Randy Nordstrom; Host: Frank Hope.
Bookended by a celebrity and a musical act, the soul of “Oddville, MTV” rests in the half-dozen acts that show off everything from seagull calls to stuffing a score of marshmallows into one man’s mouth. Host Frank Hope — a character created and portrayed by Rich Brown, a former editor at the trade publication Broadcasting & Cable — plays it like no other on the latenight landscape: There’s no kowtowing to the guests, no concern for their level of fame or a current project — solely an uneasy search for commonality among his guests, many of whom have honed their acts on street corners and in suburbia with an eye on those elusive 15 minutes.
A decade of shows on Gotham’s public access as “Beyond Vaudeville” has primed the pseudo-celeb-inured Hope for a shot as a latenight fixture. “Oddville” teams Hope with silent sidekick David and perky announcer Melissa Gabriel (her assortment of off-the-wall talents are a brand of must-see-TV unto themselves) on a set of bric-a-brac, golf clubs and hand puppets that spring up around the guests.
First episode features New Jersey Nets star Kendall Gill, a singing cowboy from Israel, the marshmallow guy, a piano-playing human pretzel, a mother-daughter comedy act, a yeller and the rock band Chavez. It’s “stupid human tricks” on methamphetamines as one act after another is whisked to the floor to perform before hitting the couch for a few questions, many of which seem to involve geography.
Tuesday’s show catches one of the singing Hanson kids mmmburping to mimic one of the other “talents,” an escape artist climbing out of a straitjacket before showing off fashions he has designed, some senior citizen singers and a dolphin caller. Michael Michele (“New Jack City”) talks about basketball in Indiana. When the bizarre stops being fun, wait a few seconds — it will turn back.
This may be a stretch for the average MTV viewer, but few shows have screamed “cult classic” on a conceptual level like this one. MTV has upped the production standards from “Beyond Vaudeville.” In so doing, some of the graininess that kept “Beyond Vaudeville” going vanishes: The silent David loses some of his annoying wackiness, Hope appears able to control the guests, and Joey the Dancing Monkey (John Walsh) is too big and overbearing.
But in Hope, the visual product of lounge acts, Buddy Holly and Joe Franklin, there’s an Everyman quality possessed by TV hosts from Franklin to Uncle Floyd to Colin Malone. Hope, like his predecessors, has created his own “real world,” one that his audience, no matter how addicted they become, wouldn’t choose to enter without an escape clause. And Gabriel has a warm and enchanting presence, an oddball in the land that defines women through Jenny McCarthy, Kennedy and Daria.