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Television Reviews : 'Funny/ 200' On Abc

October 12, 1987|TERRY ATKINSON

If the very thought of a Star-Studded Special About the Constitution is enough to put you to sleep, wake up by 9 tonight. That's when "Funny, You Don't Look 200," airs on ABC (Channels 7, 3, 10, 42, following football).

This isn't another slapdash variety show hinging on the latest patriotic anniversary, but a hip, hopping hour that manages to be both very thoughtful and very funny.

Incredibly, there are only two short musical numbers--neither featuring a 76-trombone attack on the senses.

So just how do you put together an entertaining program about the Constitution? The producers have turned that problem into the premise. We start off seeing host Richard Dreyfuss explaining to the show's writers that it needs to explain how the Constitution isn't just a "dull, dry document."

The writers recoil. "Don't say dull, " cautions one. "Don't say dry, " adds another. Don't even say document, they plead. After all, this is network TV. However, says one, if there's anything trendy about the subject. . . .

Well, maybe not, but that didn't keep co-producers Dreyfuss and Judith Rutherford James from taking a fast, fresh look at the old piece of parchment. Of course, after all those ponderously serious programs about the topic, even Mickey Mouse (one of the many celebrities who pop up in the hour) reading passages from the Bill of Rights might have seemed relatively hilarious.

Not that "Funny" is fast and fresh every moment. Once past the hilarious start, the special swings between comedy and contemplation. Some of the contemplation (necessarily?) drags a bit; some of the comedy doesn't click.

But the majority does, as do most of the brief star turns by Lily Tomlin, Whoopi Goldberg, Henry Winkler, Randy Newman (who performs a new song, "Follow the Flag"), Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy and several others--ranging from Jiminy Cricket to Sir John Gielgud. Brief clips are also edited in with wit, using everything from "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" to, believe it or not, a Beastie Boys video.

Besides living up to its name, "Funny" is easy to look at, largely thanks to the fact that it was filmed rather than videotaped, and to the directorial skill of Jim Yukich--best known for his music videos. Dreyfuss, on camera much of the time, makes a vibrantly caring host.

There's also ample and high-quality animation from Walt Disney Productions, including a sequence that should delight fans of Donald Duck who've had trouble understanding the foul-tempered fowl. He's subtitled! Much to his chagrin, of course.

Considering the liberal slant to the show--the emphasis is very much on rights rather than restrictions--it's interesting to see that among the legal consultants thanked in the credits is "The Honorable Robert Bork." Television and the Constitution make strange bedfellows--but, in this case, entertaining ones as well.

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