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Fall 2000: "Hype"

Every year, one television show surprises everybody with its freshness, originality, and outrageous humor.

This year, that show is certainly not Hype.

Ha ha! Now, you see what I did there? I set up your expectations one way, and then I threw a swerve in, creating what we in the biz call a "joke." Not a particularly good joke, admittedly, but the basic elements are still there: a setup and a punch line. The kids at Hype have apparently decided to discard both halves of the equation.

Hype is a sketch-comedy show on the WB, and it stars ten people I've never heard of and don't expect to ever hear from again. Their press releases claimed that they were going to take a bold new approach to sketch comedy. That approach inevitably includes a "comedic" news report and celebrity impersonations.

The impersonations seem to have no purpose. Why, for example, bring somebody on to pretend to be Janeane Garofalo saying "Kudos to the WB for that insightful political satire. It's a good time to be alive" and nothing else? There's just no joke there. Is the audience supposed to laugh at the mere thought of a Janeane Garofalo impersonator?

And Janeane is one of the more timely targets. Some of the other people to get zinged are William Shatner, Prince William, and Paul Lynde. Paul Lynde! The problem with a second-rate Paul Lynde imitator is that it makes the audience long for the days of Rich Little. Another problem is that the actual Paul Lynde was much funnier than the clown pretending to be him. But then the real Prince William is probably funnier than the poor sap who's going to have to put "major roles: Prince William listening to Britney Spears on the toilet" on his resume.

Of course, the test of every sketch-comedy show is: How good is its Regis Philbin? And the answer here is: Not very good. For one thing, they try to wring laughs out of his asking "Final Answer?" That joke was tired before it got used on the Oscars. Even the boring guy at your company's watercooler has stopped using it as a punch line. He's probably still doing Survivor references, which Hype will get to in another couple episodes. I'm assuming that the WB is so bereft of replacement programming that Hype will last long enough to have three episodes, which it certainly would not have on a real network.

One thing Hype cannot be faulted for is lack of effort. In addition to the ten "stars," there are nine Executive Producers, two Producers, two "Produced By"s, one Co-Producer, and twelve writers. It's a shame that all that effort resulted in jokes comparing Eminem to Vanilla Ice. That joke, incidentally, brought gasps from the audience, which was probably shocked by the viciousness of the attack. Or maybe they were shocked that a show which was promoted as being stocked with gifted impersonators had a guy pretending to be Vanilla Ice.

The Hype audience laughs a lot. This is partly because their never sure what the jokes are. When a show's big laughs are supposed to come from impersonations of George W. and Laura Bush, the audience takes to laughing at nearly random times on the theory that they can't be accused of missing the jokes. But it means that the hapless Internet television reviewer muttering "Was that supposed to be funny? Or was that the joke there? Wait, are these the commercials? Is the show still going?"

One of the things that Hype finds funny is obscenity. Several of its sketches get their theoretical laughs from potty-mouthed characters. Sadly, the obscenity is beeped out, so the joke is just "Look! Random Celebrity cursing!" Another thing they find funny is celebrity impersonations done by people who look and sound absolutely nothing like the people they're impersonating. If the captions didn't tell us that we were watching Whitney Houston, Kurt Loder, and Princess Di, we'd be forced to invent our own celebrities. Come to think of it, that might result in a funnier show.

The pacing of Hype is supposed to result in a funky, fresh feel. The sketches are short, and generally don't fall into the Saturday Night Live eight-minutes-of-dead-horse-beating trap. Sometimes, sketches are introduced with "The Hype Meter", which indicates how hyped (on a scale of Super Hyped, Mega Hyped, and Hyper Hyped) a given topic is. This is a bad sign, because one aspect of being even "Mildly Hyped" is having been the subject of eight minutes of Saturday Night Live foolishness. Of course, the twelve writers seem to think that parodies of "American Beauty" (a movie that came out thirteen months ago) are cutting edge.

Another thing they use to fill space between sketches is cast members saying random things like "this next sketch is gonna piss someone off!" or "Here comes some more good, clean <BEEP> family fun!" Unfortunately, no one says "Sock it to me!" or "Here come de judge." I'm holding out hope that in future episodes, someone bets their bippy.

Comedy isn't all that complicated. Here's an example of a joke from the mid-forties radio show called "Can You Top This?": Mrs. Bloomberg entered her husband's office unannounced and unexpectedly and found his secretary sitting on his lap. "Don't get excited," warned Mr. Bloomberg, sensing trouble, "I didn't want to tell you that business is so bad, I'm studying how to become a ventriloquist!"

That joke is clearly from the forties, because it operates on one of the basic Old Joke premises: all businessmen are having affairs with their secretaries. To operate on Hype Joke premises, it would look like this:


A man in a white wig is sitting at a desk in an undistinguished desk. A caption identifies him as BILL CLINTON. A woman in a long black wig enters.

BILL: Monica Lewinsky, you <beep>. Why don't you come over here and <beep>?

MONICA: <beep>

MONICA LEWINSKY goes to the desk and sits on BILL's lap. A woman in a short blonde wig enters.

BILL: Oh <beep>! My wife Hilary!

HILARY: <thirty seconds of beeping>


In the interest of journalistic accuracy, I have to admit that one thing on Hype made me laugh out loud: Hype was brought to us by "Blair Witch 2." Now that's funny!


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