Nobody seethes any better than the irascible Lewis Black, so credit Comedy Central with harnessing all that combustible force into the foundation for a series, as opposed to just the occasional special or “The Daily Show” rant. What emerges in this courtroom-inspired spoof, though, is really just “Dueling Standups,” creating a sort of Full Employment Act for second-tier comedians. The topics are moderately amusing and undeniably irreverent, but mostly the program represents a shrewd way of milking rehashed roast material.
Black acts as the “judge” in a debate staged on what resembles a cut-rate version of “The Weakest Link” set. Two comedians proceed to argue over which cultural annoyance or institution — “Oprah vs. the Catholic Church,” or “Donald Trump vs. Viagra” — is truly the root of all you-know-what.
Two comics loosely represent each position, with Paul F. Tompkins and Greg Giraldo in the opener, and Giraldo and Andy Kindler in week two. (Andrew Daly, Kathleen Madigan and Patton Oswalt are also in the mix.)
An array of predictably abusive standup shtick follows riffing on the respective topics, from Oprah putting herself on the cover of her magazine every week to multiple variations on jokes about Catholic priests molesting boys. (Attention, William Donohue of the Catholic League: They want you to get mad and help promote the show, but you’ll probably take the bait anyway.)
Perhaps inevitably, Black ends up delivering all the best lines as he cross-examines the comics in the second half of each episode — describing the first conflict as “A battle between devout worshipers … and the Catholic Church,” and “A relentless dick … or the same thing” regarding the second. In the last act, he renders a “verdict” that’s about as significant as the “points” on “Whose Line Is It Anyway.”
Scott Carter (“Real Time With Bill Maher”) and comedy writer David Sacks created the show, which at least exhibits considerable business savvy — channeling standups into a series format for what must surely be a bargain-basement price. Small wonder that DirecTV recently introduced a similar concept, “Supreme Court of Comedy,” which also capitalizes on the glut of comedians with time to burn, featuring Dom Irrera as the “chief justice” presiding over real-life disputes, with comics functioning as advocates.
Comedy Central’s programming usually falls squarely into the sublime or the ridiculous, so consider “Root of All Evil” a rare tweener in terms of quality — one that proves a whole lot of Black is preferable, albeit marginally, to a black hole.