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TELEVISION REVIEWS

Now This Is Funny

No series is more charming or effortlessly amusing than 'The Chris Isaak Show' on Showtime.

January 05, 2002|HOWARD ROSENBERG | TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

If there were ever an undersung comedy series deserving of an Emmy nomination that probably will not materialize--go figure--it's "The Chris Isaak Show" on Showtime. You'd think it had halitosis or something.

No laugh track here, but funneeeeee!

It rolls in Sunday for its second season, introducing Bridget Fonda as Steffie Furst, a major rock writer with a fearsome reputation. Scheduled to stay four episodes, she wants to interview Chris for a book about the late Roy Orbison. Although he initially resists, they meet, they talk, they connect. Then afterward? Well, this is cable.

Country rocker Isaak has ditched the pompadour this season but not his gentle, unmannered appeal as he begins embellishing his friendship with Orbison to impress his attractive interviewer. No comedy actors wear better than Isaak (he's actually pretty new at this) and his gifted ensemble. And no show anywhere is more charming or effortlessly amusing than this one, with Isaak playing a version of himself supported by his actual Silvertone band, plus Jed Rees as Anson, his keyboardist, and Kristin Dattilo as Yola, his manager. When not laughing at them, you're smiling.

Despite their adolescent angst, this trio is essentially sweet and likable, and even tender, at least once each episode delivering a level of poignancy that transcends comedy and reaches a higher place.

The two new episodes sent for review are written by executive producers Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider. On Sunday, Silvertone drummer Kenney Dale Johnson comes to regret letting Anson play matchmaker for him with a gorgeous groupie. And Yola, formerly no friend of dogs, instantly adores them to impress a hunky canine psychologist she meets in an elevator and hopes to know intimately. In her mind already with him under the sheets, she hopes to seal the deal by acquiring a pooch. Of course, disaster.

Her quest to plumb the thirtysomething male market is a real hoot. The canine shrink turns out to be a little too much of a doggy himself, unfortunately, and naturally this romance has no more future than last season's crush on a sleep therapist.

In this season's second episode, Anson finds himself distracted by his formerly platonic colleague Yola when suddenly responding to her in a primal way.

He's a sort of idiot savant--whiz on the ivories, clod in life--and for just a moment his eyes are Roman candles when settling briefly on Yola's breasts. And this isn't Emmy-worthy?

Minus the witty writing, this show goes nowhere. What drives the first two episodes, also, is the direction from Milan Cheylov and Max Tash, respectively.

To say nothing of Isaak; that grand clown, Rees, who surely coifs his hair with a Hoover; and the wonderful Dattilo, whose touch with this droll, sophisticated humor is so subtle and delicate that you're able to sense a lonely soul beneath Yola's exterior.

With all of them stepping lightly, this is Showtime's best foot forward.

*

"The Chris Isaak Show" airs Sunday nights at 10:45 on Showtime. The network has rated it TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children younger than 17).

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