It’s a long way back to “In Living Color,” the Fox sketch show upon which Damon Wayans put an indelible stamp in the early ’90s. And despite pledging that “The Underground” will test Showtime’s “No limits” slogan while serving up a “smorgasbord of urban culture,” this latest sketch exercise plays like warmed-over improv stew that labors way too hard to shock. Tired spoofs of TV shows like “Taxicab Confessions” and “Iraq’s Funniest Videos” dot the opening episodes, suggesting that Wayans’ latest family affair would have been better off left as a homemovie.
Each episode contains a rapid-fire assortment of gags, but other than the bad-taste quotient, sketches about starving Somalians, white guys talking black and a no-imagination-required version of “the real ‘Vagina Monologues'” don’t really go anywhere. Nor does an overlong bit about a paroled convict (played by Wayans) getting it on with a horny granny.
Granted, the extended Wayans clan has made a pretty good living of late churning out low-brow comedy, and son Damon Jr. and brother Dwayne (providing the music) join Wayans in the festivities. Yet anyone who remembers “Color’s” Homey D. Clown or “Men on Film” segments will with only sporadic exceptions find this latest concoction curiously flat, operating more on the comic’s reservoir of goodwill than any creative spark.
The pay-TV model hinges on stitching together a kind of programming quilt, and this patch certainly should attract a different demo to Showtime than “The L Word” or “Weeds.” Yet if “The Underground” is really as Wayans maintains in the press notes — ” ‘In Living Color’ on steroids” and “everything we weren’t allowed to do on broadcast television” — perhaps it’s time to go steroid-free, inasmuch as the show aims to be tasteless and only winds up “Color”-less.