Having made a well-deserved name for themselves on the Web, the folks at the Onion are looking to conquer television — and off to a promising start with “Onion SportsDome,” a wry spoof of ESPN’s “SportsCenter.” Granted, sportscasters’ bombastic English (“Booya!” anyone?) is almost beyond parody, but this rapid-fire, slickly produced half-hour is witty enough to serve as a logical lead-in to “The Daily Show” and its skewering of cable news. Not all sports fans will chuckle at their own excesses, but with any luck, enough folks will get the gag to spell victory for Comedy Central.
Anchors Mark Shepard (played by Matt Oberg) and Alex Reiser (Matt Walton) look and sound just like the real-life articles, the clean-cut young guys (mostly) holding forth for what seems like eight hours straight into the morning’s wee hours on ESPN. One must listen closely to notice the quirks, like their tease that the Oakland A’s picked up “some veteran pitching on Craigslist,” or Major League Baseball’s plans to “charge a fee for childhood memories.”
Clearly, the Onion gang have put in the requisite time to master the minutiae of sports coverage, from the inane human-interest stories (cue the piano music) to silly canned features forcing the analysts to engage in verbal combat — in this case, a heated debate titled “Who Would You Kill?,” sponsored by Smith & Wesson.
Not everything works, in part reflecting the difficulty in translating deadpan satire from print to video — rendering the show a closer kin to “The Colbert Report” in its simultaneous mockery of TV conventions and (here) the sporting world. In addition, the bite-sized humor makes the show something of a stretch even at 21 minutes or so minus commercials.
Still, when “SportsDome” presents coverage of the National Crystal Meth Hallucination League (watch out for those giant spiders) — or a “Wish Zone” for terminally ill children, provided their fantasy involves sports — it feels, for the most part, like you’re in good hands.
With “Onion News Network” slated to premiere on IFC later this month, the time has finally come for the Onion to try to cash in on all those much-admired headlines. Shrewdly, both shows will play in venues where ratings expectations will be relatively low, and something breezy like “SportsDome” — to borrow from another ESPN sportscaster — could … go … all … the … way.