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Tv Review : Nbc Special--an Unfunny Ordeal

July 15, 1987|BILL STEIGERWALD

The most astonishing thing about "NBC Presents the AFI Comedy Special" isn't that it's so consistently and so pathetically unfunny. It's that NBC doesn't seem to have a clue that it's created yet another TV crime against comedy (tonight at 10 on Channels 4, 36, 39).

Hosted by Dick Van Dyke and sprinkled with TV guest stars such as "Night Court's" John Larroquette and comedian David Leisure of Isuzu car-commercial fame, the show is a four-pack of mostly flat and embarrassingly laughless sketches written by recently discovered writers who took part in a TV writers comedy workshop at the American Film Institute.

Richard Day's "Blue Suits" beats and tortures a single joke to death--the hackneyed idiocy that successful businessmen are cutthroats who'd sell out anyone, including their own father, to get ahead. The laugh-trackettes in the audience hoot at all the yelling and overmugging, but there's neither a genuine laugh nor a clever line to be found.

"Gwendolyn," Delle Chatman's terribly dull skit about a child psychiatrist caught in a romantic tangle, approaches anti-comedy.

"Five Corners," Michael Sardo's attempt at a "warm comedy" set in a Bronx lunch counter, is one giant, tedious cliche--though in a switch, Kaye Ballard does some of her shouting in Italian.

Only Leslie Fuller's "The Rec Room," a refreshingly twisted sketch about a surrealistic 1956 audience-participation show, demonstrates any sign of wit, hipness or intelligence. It at least takes some chances, with Annie Golden playing a strait-jacketed mental patient who's dragged from the audience to undergo a "This Is Your Life" ordeal at the hands of hipster host Skip Distance (John Larroquette doing a good Dick Shawn-like shtick while a house band of bopsters provide drum rolls and rim shots).

At the end of a show that will appeal to no one under 30, NBC Entertainment President Brandon Tartikoff shamelessly steps on stage and says how proud he is that NBC has sponsored this "quality TV special." That might be the funniest line of the night.

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