Anderson goes back to his roots in an effort to exploit his street performer persona — cynical con man with the face of Howdy Doody. This beguiling illusionist keeps smiling and chattering while parting a fool and his money. But his half-cynicism gets in the way. Fractured hour is driven by the premise that people enjoy being ripped off, or at least seeing others get ripped off, and ends up somewhere between Penn & Teller’s subversive approach to magic and the mean showmanship of the carnival.
Before going before a studio audience seated in a carnival tent, Anderson dupes his fellow “Dave’s World” actors into betting against his skills. Later, he and apprentice J.C. Wendel swindle other chumps at a make-believe carnival, including John Ritter and Brent Spiner, who make unfunny guest appearances as themselves.
Tricks performed in the tent are all old standbys such as interlocking metal hoops, a shell game and card tricks. To show how he performs his first trick — changing two $ 5 bills belonging to audience members into one $ 10 — Anderson sheds his coat and drops his drawers to reveal a complicated magician’s grappler , which propels bills down his sleeve. It’s meant facetiously, and no secrets are ever revealed.
With the exception of one good dig at Siegfried and Roy, the jokes are as weary as the tricks. Some of the subtler lines come dangerously close to being non sequiturs.
A visit to a real-life magic shop in Azusa is a nicely crafted piece during which Anderson is genuinely charming. Johnson’s sketch with his monkey dummy is wonderful, and Davison turns his juggling bit into a graceful variation on modern dance. Both are able to put refreshing twists on their arts.
The segments that take place without the studio audience and without a laugh track are flat. The script and its choppy structure are mainly responsible, but director Jim Drake can’t seem to meld everything together. Title cards are used to delineate segments, without much purpose or impact.