"Stressed Eric," a comedy from Britain about a divorced father of two, debuting in its American version on NBC tonight, seems to be trying to out-do "South Park" for sheer tastelessness in an animated series.
A harried office worker with a typically tyrannical boss, Eric has to cope with a never-ending string of supposedly funny problems. His daughter, Claire, has allergies that make her tongue and lips swell to grotesque proportions. His 10-year-old son, Brian, never speaks but puts everything within reach into his mouth--toys, a blanket, a camera and, in the opening episode, the "baby Jesus" doll in the school Nativity play.
While Eric's at work, he leaves the children with Maria, the alcoholic au pair, who constantly vomits, off and on camera.
Hank Azaria, the voice of Apu, Moe, Chief Wiggum et al on "The Simpsons," will provide the title character's voice in America (only the British version was available for preview). He may be able to make Eric likable, but it's going to be an uphill battle. Series creator Matt Groening has often noted that "The Simpsons" is about a family "whose members love each other but drive each other crazy"; the characters on "Stressed Eric" lack that underlying affection and come across as alienated, crass and nasty.
In addition to trimming the show to fit a network time slot, NBC has announced that "some broadcast standards issues will result in additional edits." It's difficult to imagine what will be left of "Hospital," the second episode, after those excisions. The jokes include a randy physician who uses styling mousse and a hair dryer on his crotch, a knife wound in Eric's leg leaving a bloody trail all over the medical facility, Maria setting fire to Eric's house, doctors yanking bloody hands out of patients' bodies and Brian ingesting all the medicine in an ambulance.
The animation is by Klasky Csupo, and the designs of the characters recall their "Rugrats" series.
* "Stressed Eric" premieres at 9:30 tonight on NBC (Channel 4).