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TELEVISION REVIEW

Tale of the talk: Wanda Sykes, George Lopez

Sykes' comedic bite is on full, if shaky, display on Fox while Lopez treads a familiar funny-guy path on TBS.

November 11, 2009|MARY MCNAMARA | TELEVISION CRITIC

The last thing the television landscape needs right now is another comedian-hosted talk show and yet now we have two more. "The Wanda Sykes Show" premiered on Fox on Saturday night followed two days later by "Lopez Tonight" on TBS.

Of the two, the weekly "The Wanda Sykes Show" is the more promising, though "Lopez Tonight" certainly wins the Set Most Likely to Induce Seizures Award. Its "Nightmare at Universal City Walk" motif managed, on Monday night, to make even Kobe Bryant appear small.

As required by entertainment law, the two hosts each opened with a monologue. Sykes, being the more acid-tongued of the two, kept hers straight-up and political, railing against critics of President Obama. Some of it was very funny, some of it less so but clearly she isn't courting anyone not already in her fan base.

George Lopez, meanwhile, maintained his position as a Latino Everyman (though one with seats good enough to hear the Lakers trash talk their opponents). He wandered through the well-trodden valley of male comedy where married people don't have enough sex and Mexican food makes you fart.

The only other thing the two shows shared was the obvious banner of diversity, which Lopez waved rather frantically and Sykes pretty much ignored. (That and a strange and rather troubling obsession with Asian stereotypes, but more on that later.)

As for Changing the Face of Late Night, which remains dominated by white men, "The Wanda Sykes Show" at least attempts to do something beyond mere demographic-busting. (Black, female and lesbian, she's essentially a late-night hat trick.) Sykes uses some of the traditional genre tropes -- comedian Keith Robinson is her sidekick -- but the show is clearly about her and her comedy rather than the guests. (Something potential guests might want to jot down.)

Unfortunately, at least in the debut, she was not at her comedic best. Appointing herself the Obama bouncer meant she had to reference old news and all the conservative usual suspects -- Ann Coulter took it in the opener. A filmed skit about recycling sex toys, though funny as a concept, was cringe-inducing in delivery.

When the guests finally arrived -- Daryl "Chill" Mitchell, Mary Lynn Rajskub ("24") and "The Amazing Race's" Phil Keoghan -- they were served cocktails and presented with a series of "View"-like current topics. ("The New York Times says screaming is the new spanking . . . ")

But while Mitchell valiantly attempted to keep the comedic ball aloft, poor Rajskub and Keoghan were images of quiet desperation. (Memo to Sykes: Prep your guests better.) Then they all played a game called "Know Your Asian," which led to questionable jokes about the general attractiveness of Chinese backsides.

Asian-bashing was also on the menu over at "Lopez Tonight" where two members of the studio audience, a black man and young woman of possibly Filipino descent, were asked to watch pre-taped man-on-the-street interviews and then guess if, say, that black man had ever been to jail.

The Asian man in one clip was asked, to high hilarity, if he had a small penis, and it was difficult to imagine a situation in which even Jon Stewart could get away with such a thing.

Other than that, Lopez seemed content to bring a big flashy set and a smattering of Spanish to what is essentially a cookie-cutter format: Monologue followed by guests who are all Simply Fabulous. Eva Longoria Parker is, in fact "the most beautiful woman in the world," which is no doubt why Lopez tried to make her do a little pole dancing. Fortunately, her glitter dress was too tight and her wig too unmanageable.

While Sykes has taken a more jaded approach to the whole thing, sighing in interviews that she wasn't sure she was up to doing another network show with all its impossible variables, Lopez touted his first show as proof of a new America, in which any little boy or girl can grow up to be president or a talk show host. (Ellen DeGeneres even showed up to gravely intone that everyone should be represented on television. Really, Ellen? Everyone?)

There is a lot to be said for this, but maybe we should wait and see if these particular shows get any better before we start celebrating.

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mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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'Lopez Tonight'

Where: TBS

When: 11 weeknights

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14)

'The Wanda Sykes Show'

Where: Fox

When: 11 p.m. Saturday

Rating: TV-14-DL (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14, with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language).

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