Review: ‘Cousin Skeeter’

The embarrassing "Cousin Skeeter" answers the intriguing question: What would the 1980s NBC comedy "ALF" have been like if its puppet were a jive-talker with a 'tude?

The embarrassing “Cousin Skeeter” answers the intriguing question: What would the 1980s NBC comedy “ALF” have been like if its puppet were a jive-talker with a ‘tude? This half-hour entrant in Nickelodeon’s primetime “Nickel-O-Zone” lineup is from Mike Tollin and Brian Robbins, the guys who created the significantly less offensive “All That” and “Kenan & Kel” for Nick. They apparently have set their sights on sending TV’s view of black culture careening back to the Stone Age.

The sitcom (complete with a painful laugh track that’s curiously activated by straight lines) is teeming with agonizing black stereotypes. “Cousin Skeeter’s” wisecracking chief protagonist does everything short of shouting, “Hey, wher’all da white women at?” Actually, he might even shout that once. And the guy is supposed to be all of 13.

And oh yes, he happens to be a puppet. But not the Jim Henson kind. Skeeter (voiced by Bill Bellamy) is a mean-spirited, piggish, jive-screaming, self-flagellating little runt with bushy eyebrows and a cell-phone clipped to his pants with which to field calls from his inexplicable legion of female suitors.

Forget about ALF. What we have here is the offspring of Redd Foxx and Cookie Monster.

This might be forgivable if the show were somehow funny. Phil Beauman’s pilot teleplay, directed by Tollin, paints a scenario in which a family newly relocated to New York City from L.A. is about to be invaded by a certain relative from Atlanta. What’s especially weird is that once Skeeter makes his appearance in the home of shy, sensitive 13-year-old Bobby (Robert Ri’chard) and his numbingly dense parents, Andre (Rondell Sheridan) and Vanessa (Angela Means), no one seems to notice that he’s, well, you know, made of felt.

Anyway, Skeeter goes about the business of corrupting poor Bobby from the get-go, screwing up his plans with the girl next door and just kind of being a little puppet pill. In the weeks to come, Skeeter will even introduce Bobby to (gasp) the supernatural.

One can argue that “Cousin Skeeter” is meant for kids and should therefore carry significantly more latitude to be banal. But there are limits, and this show exceeds them. The best one can say about it is that puppeteers Peter Linz and Alice Dinnean integrate Skeeter’s obnoxious presence with a visual seamlessness. It’s when the puppet opens his mouth that things crash and burn.

Tech credits are solid.

Cousin Skeeter

Nickelodeon, Tues. Sept. 1, 8:30 p.m.

Production

Filmed in Orlando, Fla., by Tollin/Robbins Prods. in association with Nickelodeon. Executive producers, Brian Robbins, Mike Tollin; co-executive producer, Phil Beauman; producers, Alonzo Brown, Tracy Sullivan, Brad Uecker; director, Tollin.

Crew

Writer, Beauman; camera, Andrew Bowley, Clark Mathis; editor, Andrew Hirsch; music, 702; production designers, Byron Taylor, David Sakeroff; sound, Thomas Allen; puppeteers, Peter Linz, Alice Dinnean; casting, Adrienne Lopez/London Casting. 30 MIN.

Cast

Voices: Skeeter - Bill Bellamy Bobby - Robert Ri'chard Andre - Rondell Sheridan Vanessa - Angela Means Nina - Meagan Good
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