Comics Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter play twisted, self-absorbed versions of themselves in “Michael & Michael Have Issues,” another show-within-a-show hybrid, mixing sketch comedy material with the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that goes into making it. Although there’s nothing new in the formula, the two half-hours screened sporadically prove very funny, transforming little skirmishes between the leads into wry comic highlights. Initial order is for just seven episodes, so the two Michaels had better start dreaming up additional issues.
In the premiere, Black and Showalter engage in an increasingly hysterical feud over a profile that the staff intern is writing for his high school newspaper. The escalating altercation winds up torturing their poor producer (Josh Pais), who receives frantic latenight calls from each of his stars. A second installment features the duo pettily vying over how best to remember the boss’s birthday.
The intermittent sketches for the fictional show, meanwhile, are extremely blue, including a riff on language that’s unacceptable for primetime (in this context, “F-N-C” does not stand for Fox News Channel), or one in which the hosts agree that drugs are bad — except in instances when they’re not, like “being better at sports” and “making music sound better.”
The premise is so slim it would probably crumble stretched beyond a half-hour, but as constructed, the show fits neatly into the niche established by “The Larry Sanders Show” and “30 Rock,” where peeking behind the curtain reveals TV talent as immature, spoiled brats. In that respect, it’s a good fit with the better live-action offerings (“The Sarah Silverman Program” comes to mind) that have occupied Comedy Central’s wildly uneven half-hour leading into “The Daily Show.”
Black and Showalter cut their comedic teeth in the sketch troupe “The State,” and not to foment discord between them, but Black — seen not long ago in the Comedy Central spoof “Reality Bites Back” — proves the real standout, projecting a childlike quality that’s amusing and aggravating in equal measure.
Fortunately — to borrow a gag from the premiere — Showalter is more than just the Garfunkel to his Simon, and the laughter elicited by “Michael & Michael” should eliminate the sounds of silence.