Margaret Cho has spent years rehashing the compromises demanded of her on the 1994 ABC sitcom “All-American Girl” — the first to feature an Asian-American family. Yet rehabilitating her stand-up credentials apparently hasn’t advanced her mastery of television — at least, not based on this “reality sitcom,” which arguably traffics in more stereotypes than her old series did. As a comic, Cho almost seems too successful to fit VH1’s talent profile, but her latest showcase suffers from an increasingly common reality-TV deficiency: It’s too staged to be convincing, and too unscripted to be reliably funny.
Cho does work reasonably hard to live up (or down) to her press-release billing, which is rife with words like “irreverent,” “outrageous” and “irrepressible.” That extends to her supporting cast, which includes a little-person “assistant” (actually burlesque performer-actress Selene Luna) and a posse of gay friends Cho refers to as the “glam squad.” When Cho is selected to receive an award from a Korean-American publication, one of them suggests painting a dress on her naked body, presumably to shock the crowd. Um, whatever.
In terms of the “reality” part, the only hint of it comes from Cho’s thickly accented parents, who regularly hang around to view her antics in bemused, confused but consistently tolerant and good-natured fashion. When her dad talks about smoking pot in the ’60s, you sort of wish the whole show were about him.
Alas, that’s not to be, and as so many do in constructing these “Day in the life of so-and-so” vehicles, the producers find themselves scrambling to fill a half-hour. Cho meets with comedy friends, a “spiritual adviser” and her style pals, but it all has the faint whiff of killing time until the award event, presumably building suspense on whether she’ll bomb or uncomfortably bite the hand that’s honoring her.
The most indelible impression, ultimately, has less to do with Cho’s current persona than how much she appears mired in her past, placing more emphasis on being victimized by the system than the following she’s developed since. “Hollywood thought I was too Asian, and Asians thought I wasn’t Asian enough,” she says near the outset as part of her continuing voiceover.
Professionally speaking, Cho looks like a survivor. Yet if her latest TV adventure on this smaller stage is to avoid its predecessor’s fate, being funny would be a good place to start.