Ordinarily so skillful at wringing laughs out of schlocky B-movies and cheesy old TV shows, HBO’s “Dream On” stumbles, ironically by succumbing to some of the pomposity it usually ridicules. Show kicks off its fourth season by expanding to an hour, filling the time with needless guest stars and a tedious courtroom plot.
“Dream On” always works best when it focuses on the travails of put-upon book editor/baby boomer Everyman Martin Tupper (Brian Benben). The actor’s adept juggling of physical comedy and ’90s pathos have been as much a part of the show’s success as its hilarious use of old B&W film clips to express Martin’s thoughts and its only-on-cable sexual explicitness.
That’s where the first — and funnier — half of the show concentrates. While Martin is making a video of his son, Jeremy (Chris Demetral, whose voice has changed during the show’s hiatus), he inadvertently shoots beloved kiddie show host Uncle Bouncy receiving oral sex from a prostitute in an alley.
When Martin tries to take the high road and give the tape to Uncle Bouncy (Tom Poston), he encounters a foul-mouthed and even fouler-natured jerk. So he instead sells it to his best friend Eddie (Dorien Wilson), who features it on his talkshow. But the day after the piece airs, Bouncy jumps to his death and his grieving daughter (Elisabeth Shue) sues Martin.
What had so far been clever yet silly — a”Dream On” trademark — suddenly bogs down as the action moves to an endless courtroom scene. James Woods offers a bad James Woods imitation as Martin’s attorney while “Seinfeld’s” Jason Alexander doesn’t fare much better as the oily Southern prosecutor.
By the time the trial ends, even the most politically correct viewer will be hoping for “Dream On’s” usual fall-back: a little gratuitous sex. In some ways director John Landis — one of the show’s co-creators — indulges in the same needless padding that dragged down his video for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”; remember that?
Otherwise, tech credits are top-notch, notably the skillful interweaving of clips. Best of these is one of Bing Crosby crooning about his romantic mood as Martin frets about being jailed, and another of John Wayne as Genghis Khan as Woods mounts his pitiful defense. About all that’s missing is the usual offering from one of Ronald Reagan’s B-films.
Oh well, there’s always next week.