Frank Caliendo is a gifted impressionist, but like so many purveyors of that craft, he squanders his talents on shoddy material. Thus comes “Frank TV,” a weekly latenight program that adapted Caliendo’s multiheaded shtick into an uneven sketch comedy, using camera tricks that allow him to play practically all the parts. Some of Caliendo’s more obscure impressions — Charles Barkley and Al Pacino come to mind — are truly impressive, but too often the show’s first two episodes let bits tediously drag on, while falling back on tired staples like spoofing presidents Clinton and Bush.
Television can actually set back the impressionist’s craft, here employing heavy makeup that does little to improve Caliendo’s resemblance to the host of characters he’s imitating. Onstage, simply allowing facial expressions and mannerisms to do the trick is generally more fun.
It’s perhaps a byproduct of the show’s technical elements, in fact, that the sketches tend to play on until well after they’ve run out of steam, from a futuristic “Seinfeld” send-up (where, yes, Caliendo plays everyone) to a predictable infomercial for the Clinton Library that turns the presidential venue into a cut-rate Hooters franchise.
Caliendo certainly has a vast celebrity repertoire at his disposal, but most of these larger-than-life targets — John Madden, Donald Trump, Robert De Niro — have been lampooned many times before and, at least when “Saturday Night Live” or “Mad TV” have their “A” game going, usually with more wit and finesse. Moreover, the one production flourish the show introduces — bringing an audience member up to act as co-host — thus far falls awkwardly flat, and nothing here is really edgy enough to merit the show’s latenight berth.
In some respects, watching Caliendo brought to mind Rich Little’s clunky performance at the last White House Correspondents Assn. dinner, which proved both reassuringly safe (especially after Stephen Colbert’s take-no-prisoners act the year before) and utterly banal. Yes, President Bush messes up words. Saw Will Ferrell do it. Next.
Viewed through that prism, although “Frank TV” spruces up an old vaudeville routine with cinematic cloning, its song — and hell, even most of its voices — remains the same.