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TELEVISION & RADIO | TUNED IN

'Wanda's' problem: Writers putting words in her mouth

September 19, 2003|Scott Sandell | Times Staff Writer

"Wanda at Large" ought to be a natural for Wanda Sykes. After all, Sykes is a stand-up comic who was hired by Fox to punch up its programming with her acerbic outlook on life. Sykes' character is also, not surprisingly, a stand-up comic named Wanda, hired by a Washington, D.C., talk show to punch up its programming with her abrasive take on politics. Talk about synergy.

So why is it that "Wanda at Large" on Fox seems to lack an element that would make it much more attractive -- a sense of being genuine?

Instead, the start of the second season at 8 tonight feels like every other prefabricated sitcom out there: a commodity produced by a writers' room, in which a cast of otherwise talented actors reads its lines, as a laugh track tells the audience when to chuckle.

That said, Sykes and Co. deliver their share of guffaws, assuming you're in the mood for insult comedy. If there's one thing Wanda, the character, can't resist, it's taking someone down a peg or two. In fact, with her Southern accent, you half expect her to quote Flo from the '70s series "Alice" by saying, "Kiss my grits," except "grits" is far too euphemistic for this show.

Tonight, Wanda has a big target in her pipe-dreaming ex-husband, Vincent, played by Dave Chappelle. As part of a deal that won't be revealed here, Vincent wants Wanda to point out all of his flaws. The next day, Wanda has filled six pages of a legal pad.

This, of course, leaves much less time to go toe to toe with her usual victims, such as the talk show's lead commentator, Bradley (Phil Morris); her best friend/segment producer, Keith (Dale Godboldo); and her sister-in-law, Jenny (Tammy Lauren).

Given Wanda's penchant for telling it like it is, though, you can rest assured that they don't escape unharmed.

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