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So Many Head Jokes, So Little Time

Bored with summer TV? Listless in the absence of your favorite shows? Posessed by the distinct sensation that there simply aren't a sufficient number of gun-toting chimpanzees in your life? Then by all means, make haste with great speed to the SciFi Channel's Web site, where you can watch the insanely wonderful new pilot, The Amazing Screw-On Head.

Born from an oddball single-issue comic book by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola -- who confessed at the time that he mainly did it to goof around and have a bit of fun -- and brought to the screen by Wonderfalls and Dead Like Me mastermind Bryan Fuller, Screw-On Head is a welcome blast of goofy, spooky fun. Imagine Monty Python and H.P. Lovecraft collaborating on a Raiders of the Lost Ark-type adventure, and you've got the general idea.

The title character, enthusiastically voiced by Paul Giamatti, is an intrepid robot secret agent who can fasten his head to a series of interchangeable bodies. Together with his manservant Mr. Groin (Patton Oswalt) and his loyal canine ally Mr. Dog, Screw-On Head battles the forces of evil at the behest of President Abraham Lincoln. In the pilot, faithfully adapted from the comic, that means preventing the nefarious Emperor Zombie (David Hyde-Pierce) and his vampiric lost love Patience (Molly Shannon) from unleashing a reptilian demigod to wreak endless horror upon the United States.

I'll pause for a moment here while you try to make sense of any of that. (Good luck.)

Coherent? Not in the least. Entertaining? Oh, indeed. The show captures Mignola's shadowy, angular art style in striking fashion. And Fuller, whose snarky sense of humor couldn't be a better fit for the project, expands upon Mignola's funny asides and bizarre concepts with relish. Giamatti reads his lines with a charmingly hammy earnestness, while Hyde-Pierce makes Emperor Zombie a cheery academic whose area of interest just happens to involve hideous monstrosities unfit for the eyes of mortal men. (Which is fine by him, since he isn't mortal and doesn't have eyes.) Even Shannon, who I found skin-crawlingly horrible during her approximately 500 years on Saturday Night Live, is actually pretty good here. And did I mention there's a chimp with a machine gun?

Best of all, Screw-On Head's online debut represents a startlingly smart move for a TV network I've only recently and grudgingly stopped loathing. SciFi, perhaps realizing that this series is nearly impossible to market in any conventional fashion, is actually soliciting viewers' opinions about the show through an online survey. Presumably, if enough viewers respond favorably, we'll get more ludicrously entertaining adventures of the Amazing Screw-On Head. I, for one, can only hope we do.


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