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Television Review

Loopy Dysfunction at the Core of Animated Version of 'Clerks'

May 31, 2000|HOWARD ROSENBERG | TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

Television should be about diversity. And here are its two takes on New Jersey: HBO's "The Sopranos" and the working-class butt-heads of ABC's "Clerks."

The latter is a free-wheeling and sometimes clever--but miles over the top--animated version of Kevin Smith's tiny 1994 feature of the same name that became a profitable cult sensation.

Smith, Brian Halloran, Jeff Anderson and Jason Mewes voice the roles they played in the film. In homage to Fox's "The Simpsons," other voices are provided by such stars as Alec Baldwin, James Woods, Gwyneth Paltrow and former NBA star Charles Barkley as himself.

ABC is giving the irreverent "Clerks" a six-episode trial. At the center of its loopy dysfunction are a pair of hallucinating, lethargic lowlifes: Dante Hicks (O'Halloran), who operates the cash register at a Quick Stop convenience store, and his friend, the barely more coherent Randal (Anderson), who works (but not much) at RST Video next door. Somehow even dopier are their pals, Jay (Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith).

Joining Smith and Scott Mosier as co-creator and executive producer is David Mandel, who wrote some of the best episodes of "Seinfeld" in his three years with that epic NBC series.

If you're expecting comedy with a cohesive narrative in "Clerks," though, forget it. It shovels in random gags--some of them witty footnotes on pop culture, many more of them sophomoric--without stopping to take a breath or connect the dots.

Tonight's premiere, for example, features a trial presided over by a Judge Reinhold who is actor Judge Reinhold (voicing himself). The second episode finds Dante and Randal recalling their lives while locked in a freezer.

"Clerks" does live dangerously, and later self-mockingly notes its own omissions and distortions regarding gays, females and African Americans. But in doing so, it also has a low IQ Jay and Silent Bob viciously deck Barkley in a scene that potentially could influence racist wannabes.

In other words, "Clerks" is dumber than it is refreshingly risky.

*

* "Clerks" can be seen Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. on ABC. The network has rated it TV-PG-V (may be unsuitable for young children with special advisories for violence).

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