Comedy Central keeps trying to replicate “Cops” spoof “Reno 911” in different venues with a formula that has become depressingly familiar: Find a setting into which the writers can throw a half-dozen zany, unpleasant characters (TV station, halfway house and now auto body shop); attempt to create edgy improvisational feel; garnish with pinches of sexism and racism, thus demonstrating irreverence to young guys (they’ll never do that on network TV!), and simmer at a very low boil. Cancel, then repeat.
So it is with “American Body Shop,” a potentially ripe venue for comedy — auto body work being slightly more mysterious than open-heart surgery — that squanders its best gag in the first minute, then goes for over-the-top jokes thereafter. So while you might chuckle guiltily at the sight of a Peruvian worker (Frank Merino) being strapped underneath a car to conduct an “undercarriage road test,” after that, there are precious few laughs to interrupt the ride.
Sam (Peter Hulne) owns the body shop, which is so hard-up that the workers purposely cause accidents in order to drum up business. The employees can’t stand him, and Sam spends the premiere trying to pass a safety inspection with little help from the staff — a motley assortment of guys and one attractive receptionist (Jill Bartlett), who rushes to crash scenes like a paramedic because she occasionally earns a commission.
As missed opportunities go, “Body Shop” seemingly won’t even appeal to auto enthusiasts and gearheads — catered to by Discovery and the new TLC reality series “Hard Shine,” also bowing in July — since it’s mostly lacking the kind of knowing, Tim Allen-type poetry rhapsodizing about cylinders and power. The second half-hour, meanwhile, hinges on a priest with a dead body in his car, and lest anyone think the clergy can be featured without intimations of pedophilia, well, forget it.
No writers are credited, but the Writers Guild did come to a recent agreement with Comedy Central, bringing this and other series (among them the much better “Sarah Silverman Program”) under its jurisdiction. Receiving benefits is always nice, but winning recognition for the writing’s contribution to this kind of hit-and-run comedy is a mixed blessing.