It's been only a few years since Dr. Drew Pinsky first brought C-list celebrities and invasive video cameras to the Pasadena Recovery Center to film "Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew," and already it's a punchline.
At the beginning of each episode of the crude, fantastical, tragic- comedy series "Warren the Ape" ( MTV, Mondays at 10:30 p.m.), our protagonist, a down-on-his-luck puppet attempting to build a comeback after losing an acting career to addiction, sits with Dr. Drew in the same chair that's held the likes of Heidi Fleiss, Jeff Conaway and Rodney King.
Unlike those notables, who at least pretended to want to change, Warren is a buffoon, not self-critical in the least. Dr. Drew stares him down, scolds him, to no effect.
If the goal is verisimilitude, it's thinly achieved. If it's to send up recovery culture, celebrity culture, reality-television culture and all the ways in which they intersect, it backfires: Seeing parody this clumsy only makes one yearn for the real thing.
That Warren is a puppet isn't nearly the help you would think it would be when it comes to this sort of humor. He's unsympathetic, dull and not nuanced at all. Warren first appeared several years ago as a character on the short-lived Fox sitcom "Greg the Bunny," and has recurred in sketches based on that show that appeared on IFC. Seth Green, who starred on "Greg the Bunny," will appear later this season, and last week's episode involved Warren attempting to stay sober by hanging out with naïve Greg.
Warren's fur does make for a handful of unexpected comedic moments — walking into an audition, Warren wryly notes, "the stench of failure and Febreze is palpable" — but Warren's inherent loathsomeness isn't diminished at all by his scruffy cuteness.
Some joy should be wrung from his interactions with other puppets, each of whom is a stand-in for an archetype. In the series premiere earlier this month, Warren lost a commercial acting gig to the jovial Chauncey the Bear (a Snuggle bear ripoff, natch). To get him back, Warren solicits a prostitute to sleep with Chauncey, films it, then leaks the tape, robbing Chauncey of his squeaky-clean image, and freeing up a cereal endorsement for Warren.
Warren gets his comeuppance, of course, with Chauncey parlaying the sex tape into a porn career (abetted by cameos from adult-film stars Belladonna, Evan Stone and Ron Jeremy), and then flipping the script on Warren, who was so miserable in his trumph that it was hard to feel crushed by his downfall.
Maybe he's better suited to hanging with humans than other puppets, this soulless little dishrag. Last week, he participated in a fantasy role-playing game as a means of stemming his sexual desire (a Dr. Drew suggestion), and he seemed more lifelike attempting to dress down his fellow dweeby players. This week, he effectively hijacks a class of middle-schoolers, taking them to visit a homeless shelter, a streetcorner drug dealer, a bar and a strip club. "These are the kind of skills that can help you pay for college," he tells the young women in the group.
Still, the kids get the best lines. There's even a joke, a funny one, about the video and sound artist Christian Marclay, teleported in from another galaxy. Warren delivers a funny comeback. It's the only moment on this show so far to indicated that this puppet might someday become a real boy.