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Building up their teams

`Knights' gives slackers purpose. `Emergency' is big on slapstick. Both use ironic Jewish tees.

January 03, 2007|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

In the feature-like premise of "The Knights of Prosperity," a new single-camera sitcom debuting on ABC tonight, a janitor forms a misfit posse for the purpose of robbing the posh Manhattan crib of Mick Jagger.

Eugene Gurkin (Donal Logue) is the slacker posse leader, and the robbing of Jagger is like Earl Hickey's list on NBC's "My Name Is Earl" -- a bright idea following an epiphany that comes to him through the TV.

On "Earl" it was Carson Daly talking about karma, which led a slacker and petty thief to reform himself to do good deeds; here it's Jagger showing off his house on E! Entertainment Television, which inspires the other way, turning a job-holding slacker to organized crime.

The comedic GPS on "The Knights of Prosperity" is programmed to harken us back, at warp speed, to great moments in ironic movie team-building -- John Belushi's "When the going gets tough" speech in "Animal House," Bill Murray's pep talks in "Meatballs" and "Stripes."

It's an evergreen, I will allow, even if creators Rob Burnett and Jon Beckerman ("Late Show With David Letterman" producers who previously did the series "Ed") rather rush you to the kitsch. It was their style on "Ed" to be too cutesy by half, and so here: The "Knights" hold their clandestine meetings in a warehouse of Jewish supplies, which quickly has them donning T-shirts with phrases such as "I'm with Meshugganah" and "Kiss Me, I'm a Mensch" as the operation kicks into higher gear in the second episode.

The T-shirt wearers are prize recruits in the category of highly lovable goofballs: a cabdriver (Maz Jobrani) who was a lawyer in India; Eugene's janitor friend Squatch (Lenny Venito) and security guard Rockefeller Butts (Kevin Michael Richardson, called on to purr his punch lines in a Barry White baritone).

Their ranks quickly swell to include a nerdy intern (Josh Grisetti) and a Latin bombshell (Sofia Vergara); by then, in addition to T-shirts, the Knights have their own theme song from Paul Shaffer (David Letterman's among the show's executive producers) and a show logo with retro font, if not enough players to form a Central Park softball league team.

"The Knights of Prosperity" once had the catchier title of "Let's Rob ... Mick Jagger." The Rolling Stones icon is onboard here, sending up his idle wealth winningly; he's a natural at self-caricature, but he's such a dogged entertainer, touring and touring, that I came to wish the series had picked a different target, someone who truly seems to live a celebrity life so blessed you'd rather just watch cash fall on their head (David Spade comes to mind, or ABC's own Jim Belushi or Ryan Seacrest).

"Let's Rob ... Jim Belushi (if not Seacrest)" has a much more comprehensible, Robin Hood feel to it -- a palpable and needed anger at the spoils of certain showbiz success. Whether they know it, Burnett and Beckerman have come up with a catchphrase, "Let's rob ... ," that has a certain metaphorical resonance about our runaway celebrity culture; you could see it becoming the next "Jump the shark."

The "Knights" gang briefly considers robbing Fran Drescher instead ("She's got that 'Nanny' money," Rockefeller argues cogently), before Gurkin has them sticking with the plan. But they needed to discuss this more, because as it stands the show lacks a fun villain, a la Ben Stiller's fitness freak in "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story," or David Huddleston's Big Lebowski.

I could also get behind robbing the ABC executives who picked up "In Case of Emergency," which comes on tonight after "Knights of Prosperity" and instantly displays a commitment to slapstick in direct proportion to a state of comedic denial.

"In Case of Emergency" stars Jonathan Silverman (robbable), David Arquette (ditto) and Greg Germann (less so) as old high school friends in various intersecting mid-30s poses of identity crisis and privilege collapse. This involves a stolen bakery truck, gunplay and a visit to a massage parlor, the happy ending provided by the high school's former class valedictorian (Kelly Hu).

These four will join forces to find themselves -- and a sense of family -- anew. Great, more team-building. And -- sitcom trend alert! -- ironic Jewish T-shirts, including a midriff-baring tank that Hu wears, which says, "You had me at Shalom."

Is this comedy's new spit-take?

paul.brownfield@latimes.com

*

`The Knights of Prosperity'

Where: ABC

When: 9 to 9:31 tonight

Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)

*

`In Case of Emergency'

Where: ABC

When: 9:31 to 10 tonight

Rating: TV-PG DV (may be unsuitable for young children, advisories for suggestive dialogue and violence)

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