Beyond “The Daily Show,” most of Comedy Central’s programming evokes images of smoke-filled rooms — the kind that generate a bad case of the munchies, not political candidates. Add “Stella,” a hybrid sitcom/sketch show, to the net’s roster of fast, silly but not especially funny fare, which is where the cabler’s first name becomes something of a burden. Press materials reference the Marx Bros., but anyone comparing this trio of stooges to them has wolfed down too many animal crackers.
Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter and David Wain write, produce and star in the series, which follows their madcap exploits through such misadventures as getting booted from their apartment and campaigning to run their resident board. Filled with non-sequiturs, the three always wear suits, appear to be unemployed and mostly behave like idiots, which would be far more amusing if the show were only a bit more clever.
Unlike the channel’s British import “The Hollow Men,” among other net offerings that dabble in sketch comedy, the episodes pursue a story but remain prone to flights of fancy — such as Wain’s instant make-out session with a comely real estate agent, one of the few chuckle-out-loud moments in the episodes viewed.
Black, Showalter and Wain have been performing together for years (their collaborations include MTV’s “The State”), and the series doesn’t bother with any explanations as to who this version of Beavis, Butt-head and Butt-head might be. There’s a fine line, however, between zany and merely annoying, with gags so pitched toward the absurd as to leave anyone who doesn’t completely yield to them out in the cold.
It’s understandable why Comedy Central would pursue young men and teens, and modest rating gains would appear to endorse the strategy; still, concepts such as this and the animated “Drawn Together” chase that target so narrowly that even in success the rewards will be limited, unlike Jon Stewart’s rightfully lauded show or “South Park” in its heyday.
Obviously, the channel has found the bull’s-eye before, but in the long run, weightless fluff like “Stella” is no way to get its groove back.