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TELEVISION REVIEW

'Michael & Michael Have Issues'

Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter are real people with fake lives on Comedy Central's genial new comedy.

July 15, 2009|ROBERT LLOYD | TELEVISION CRITIC

Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter are the Michaels of "Michael & Michael Have Issues," a new situation-sketch-metacomedy that premieres tonight on Comedy Central. The series features the stars as "themselves": They are seen living their lives, making their TV show and performing in it. But it is all made up: Only the names haven't been changed.

Conceptually, it is a little like a lot of things that have come before. Comedies about the making of comedies are fundamental to the medium's DNA, including "The Jack Benny Program," "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "The Larry Sanders Show" and "30 Rock," and (though it was about a website) "The CollegeHumor Show." (Showalter, incidentally, has a Web series, "The Michael Showalter Showalter," on Collegehumor.com.) As a sitcom studded with sketches, it especially resembles, of all things, Demi Lovato's current Disney Channel tweencom, "Sonny With a Chance."

Although its stars do sometimes adapt the attitude of teenage girls -- I know, right? -- its closer cousins, tonally, are deadpan absurdist (often New York-based) comedies such as "Flight of the Conchords" (another show about bickering bonded partners) and "Important Things With Demetri Martin."

Black, whose credits include Comedy Central's "Viva Variety!," VH1's "I Love the . . . " series, recurring roles on "Ed" and "Reaper," and ads for the soft drink Sierra Mist, is the more familiar of the pair. He and Showalter have worked together in the comedy groups the State (MTV series, 1993 to 1995) and Stella (Comedy Central series, 2005). I've always found him likable, to the point of regarding his presence as a kind of endorsement.

As in "Stella," the duo don't exactly play themselves, nor do they play characters in any way that one Michael's motivations or reactions consistently distinguish him from the other; you are left with just a general effect, superficially described by Showalter's observation to Black that "people tell me I look like a cop but you just look like a gay guy." But you could switch their parts and get substantially the same show.

Each Michael is overly competitive and jealous of the other's standing. In the pilot, they fight to impress an intern interviewing them for his high school paper. "Every John Lennon needs his Ringo," says Showalter, "because John provides the passion and the genius and the writing and vision, and Ringo plays drums." Says Black, "I needed my Garfunkel, somebody less talented than me but somebody who could sing on pitch."

The sketches include an anti-drugs lecture that turns slowly in their favor. (Showalter: "Like if you've got midterms to study for . . . drugs work great for that." Black: "Or if you just want music to sound better." Showalter: "Or if you're just bored.") A bit about a TV weatherman too quiet to hear (Showalter) is quite funny until he attacks the news anchors like a dog in heat. The pair's attempts to mitigate the awfulness of their just-invented "F-N-C Word" made me laugh.

Practically speaking, the mix of sketch and story lets them not invest too heavily in either, and "Michael & Michael" is pretty consistently amusing in a low-boil way while rarely breaking into brilliance. And given the insistent childishness of the leads, it remains somehow genial even at its nastiest.

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robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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'Michael & Michael Have Issues'

Where: Comedy Central

When: 10:30 tonight

Rating: TV-14-D (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with an advisory for suggestive dialogue)

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