Upright Citizens Brigade … Crossword King (‘Wearz Bermuda ——’) on TV Clues; CBS’s I Want My Daddy

Wednesday, Aug. 19

The people over at Comedy Central have something excellent lined up and ready to take over the comedy waves, which is a lucky thing because the last funny sketch show, The Kids in the Hall , is 10 years old, not to mention Canadian. The new hot property, the Upright Citizens Brigade , follows South Park , but what it really does is kick its ass. It’s the typical sketch-comedy spiel, but the skits relate to each other (the same way the three plots on Seinfeld do), and they go easy on caricatures. No fat ladies from the South. No fast-talking Hispanics. Sometimes you can’t even tell where the character’s from, like Tim Conway’s Mr. Tudball in the Carol Burnett Show .…

Matt Besser, Matt Walsh, Amy Poehler and Ian Roberts moved to New York from Chicago three years ago to do a pilot for Fox which never got made. They stuck around, started performing live and now regularly have to turn people away from Sunday-night improv performances at Solo Arts Group, 36 West 17th Street. But HBO’s got egg on its face. Why? This show is brilliant! This show is the Funniest Thing on Television! NYTV spoke to Matt Besser and Amy Poehler. We asked, How do you work if you’re not feeling funny?…

Matt: “I get high and drunk so I wake up and feel funny again.”…

And, What’s the best thing about being a comedian?…

Matt: “It feeds my ego, and I don’t know, but I’d say a lot of comedians develop their skills as a defense mechanism or as a way to be heard among your peers. You can’t get beyond the feeling of getting a bunch of laughs.”…

Getting … a … bunch of laughs … and … How soon will you sell out for movies?…

Matt: “I would like to stay together in the same way that the Wu Tang Clan stays together, or Monty Python. We plan to have five to seven seasons together.”…

Five … to … seven. O.K. What if a network tries to buy you? …

Matt: “I hate money; we’re with Comedy Central for at least three years.”…

Amy? Do you feel like there are enough lady comedians? …

Amy: “I don’t think comedy should be equal opportunity. I know tons of hilarious women. There was a long time when sketch groups didn’t have women, but I think that’s slowly changing.”…

I missed that. Did you say it should or shouldn’t be equal opportunity? …

Amy: “The first time I ever got people to laugh at me, it was such a tremendous feeling. I was like, Ah, I’d like to have that feeling again. And when you’re in a group, you share that feeling.”…

Oh! How is UCB different than your average sketch troupe? …

Amy: “We’re not into parody. Our comedy is very premise-based and character-based. Our ideas may be crazy, but we play them as realistic. I think audiences appreciate when you don’t have to scream. I hope that we would always overestimate our audience’s intelligence.” [Comedy Central, 45, 10:30 P.M.]

Thursday, Aug. 20

Unlike his predecessor, Eugene Maleska (who died in 1993 when he was 76), Will Shortz thinks the New York Times crossword puzzle should reflect everything in life. “Television is a big part of modern life,” he said. “It should be covered in the crossword.” When Mr. Shortz, who sold his first puzzle at 14 and received a degree in enigmatology (read: games) from the University of Indiana, took over the Times crossword, he broadened the subjects and added popular culture, which is why the Simpsons keep showing up as clues.…

“Just about everyone on The Simpsons is a crossword-friendly name,” said Mr. Shortz. “Lisa, Homer, Bart, Marge, Apu. Some are very valuable. They just have good names for crosswords. We just love those short names, full of vowels. It doesn’t matter what order as long as there are a lot of vowels. Especially ones that end and begin in vowels. The English language is short on words that start and end in vowels.” Are there other crossword-friendly shows? “Star Trek and Deep Space Nine ,” said Mr. Shortz. There’s Odo the Changeling on Deep Space Nine , which would normally be too obscure; Deanna Troy the counselor on Next Generation ; and Sulu and Lieutenant Uhura in the original Star Trek . All the names on Cheers were good: Ted, Sam Malone, Diane, Carla. It makes me wonder, when they pick the names for the characters, do they purposefully choose names because they know they will appear in crosswords?…

“From classic TV there is Ness from the Untouchables .’ At least half the time you’ll see ‘Loch ____ monster,’ sometimes you’ll see ‘Robert Stack role,’ or ‘Kevin Costner role.’ I try to vary it as much as I can.”…

Do you watch a lot of TV? “I watched every Seinfeld ; I don’t know what I’m going to do in the fall.” Upcoming crossword gimme: The Simpsons ‘ Ms. Krabappel equals Edna. Tonight on Seinfeld : Elaine longs for a 212 area code. [WNBC, 4, 9 P.M.]

Friday, Aug. 21

Chris Rock makes TV history: His talk show gets brought back for a third season, which means he’s outlasted a trio of African-American talk-show hosts (Magic, Keenan, Vibe) who were all canceled after two seasons or less. Tonight, Mr. Rock takes a detour through the low road (Johnnie Cochran) but salvages the show with good jokes and musical guest, British trip-hopper Tricky. (Martin Lawrence, of The Martin Show , would have made a fine talk-show host, too, but after he was found naked and waving a gun in the middle of a freeway, his chances for a big network deal–if not elective office–were somewhat diminished.) [HBO, 28, 11:30 P.M.]

Saturday, Aug. 22

Five years ago next week, David Letterman brought The Late Show to CBS. Now, significantly, the Tiffany network meets Fartman (now there’s the name of a talk show) in the long-awaited premiere of its competitor to Saturday Night Live , The Howard Stern Radio Show . [WCBS, 2, 11:30 P.M.]

Sunday, Aug. 23

% This season’s brainchild from Marcy Carsey, Tom Werner ( The Cosby Show, Roseanne ), Bonnie Turner and Terry Turner ( Third Rock From the Sun ) is a retro-hip sitcom called That 70′s Show . Oh, boy … They said this would be one of the new season’s finest–but it turns out this lifeless half-hour feels like a conspiracy to bore us to death. Just like the 70′s! NYTV prediction for the season’s finest? Friends . Ladies and gentlemen …This is their year. [WNYW, 5, 8:30 P.M.]

Monday, Aug. 24

NYTV’s correspondent Terry Golway reports that CBS’s Before Your Eyes special, Don’t Take My Daddy , probably should have been called “Don’t Take My Husband,” for the most sympathetic characters are three American women married to Irish immigrants with a past. In their younger days, Gabriel Megahey, Matt Morrison and Noel Gaynor were active and unapologetic members of the Irish Republican Army. They are now settled in America (Gabriel and Patricia Megahey live in the Bronx) with young families, coaching soccer, celebrating birthdays, attending to the kind of chores you don’t associate with hardened terrorists.…

The U.S. Government, however, has not been impressed with these scenes of domestic bliss. The three former I.R.A. men have been fighting Washington’s attempts to deport them back to Northern Ireland, where they would face an uncertain fate. For the last three years, their wives have attended rallies, met politicians, testified before Congress to keep their husbands in America. In producer-writer Mary Murphy’s splendid piece, CBS Reports brings this very human and controversial story to a wider (and perhaps not as sympathetic) audience. Host Roma Downey, star of Touched by an Angel , was born and reared in Northern Ireland. She poses the dilemma: How you view the plight of these men and their families depends on how you view their past. Mr. Gaynor was a lookout during an I.R.A. ambush that killed a police officer nearly two decades ago; Mr. Morrison tried unsuccessfully to shoot a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary; Mr. Megahey, was caught in the early 1980′s in an F.B.I. sting in New York, trying to buy surface-to-air missiles for shipment to the I.R.A. (The program includes secret footage of Mr. Megahey in the St. Regis Hotel, offering his price for the missiles.) Like the others, he served his time and settled down, and now speaks on behalf of the peace accord in Northern Ireland.…

Congress cracked down on immigrants and aliens with terrorist pasts after the Oklahoma City bombing. That left Mr. Morrison, Mr. Megahey and Mr. Gaynor vulnerable to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. For two and a half years, the filmmakers watched them as they fought their return. Thanks to the determination of their wives, the men eventually got good news when the I.R.A. put aside its weapons–although the U.S. Government has suspended, not ended, its deportation proceedings.…

In the documentary’s final sequence, Mr. Megahey says his life in the Bronx could come to an end if another bomb were to go off in Northern Ireland. [WCBS, 2, 10 P.M.]

Tuesday, Aug. 25

If Christina Ricci made a movie today called That Darn Cat (1997), it would be rated NC-17. (But Disney could make a PG-13 version of The Opposite of Sex with Dean Jones.) [Disney Channel, 33, 8 P.M.]

Peter Bogdanovich ‘s Movie of the Week

Orson Welles said that high among the funniest things he’d ever seen was the team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis when they performed in nightclubs, which is how the act first became popular between 1945 and 1949, when they played in their first movie. “You have no idea how funny they were!” Orson said. “You’d pee your pants.” Jerry and Dean–in terms of the brains behind the act, that would have been the billing–broke up the places, like New York’s Copacabana, where they were a sellout smash every time they were there. When Martin tried to sing, Lewis disrupted, erupted, they fought, did falls, ran into the audience, took customers’ steaks, cut men’s ties, and the people screamed and couldn’t get enough. Savvy, sexy, both agile, young, attractive and 6 feet tall: Dean the witty, crooner-mocking singer, Jerry the most savagely belly-laugh-funny comedian of the last 50 years.

Of course, all those live performances–later, their stage appearances at the old Paramount became legendary–are only there in the memories of those who were lucky enough to have seen them. Second best are those absolutely live, no-tape-ahead television shows Martin and Lewis did between 1949 and their breakup in 1955. Recently I saw a bunch of their old Colgate Comedy Hour s, and many of them were still fall-down-on-the-floor hilarious. Third best are their movies, two supporting-role appearances, and 14 starring-role musical comedies that were way up there among the biggest money-makers of the 50′s. There are fun moments in most of them, but only two hold together as movies, both directed by Frank Tashlin. Their best: 1955′s Artists and Models [Monday, Aug. 24, American Movie Classics, 54, 10 A.M.] and their last, 1956′s Hollywood or Bust [Tuesday, Aug. 25, AMC, 54, noon] .

Tashlin–a cartoonist, cartoon-director at Warner Brothers, successful comedy screenwriter, French New Wave cult director (one of Jean-Luc Godard’s favorites)–was the perfect filmmaker for Martin and Lewis, exploiting their often cartoonish, musical-comedy personalities in a satirical context, first with kid’s horror comic books as the butt of it, then with Hollywood fans, short for fanatics. Artists and Models is especially cutting and still as relevant in its garish look at the world of bloody children’s-horror comics. Tashlin’s colors were often outrageous, but that was the point: It was like an only slightly exaggerated mirror image of the audience’s taste. (Tashlin would eventually direct six of Lewis’ most successful solo pictures, and encouraged the comedian’s own directing career; Jerry always called him “my teacher.”)

Also, Tashlin was the first to notice what he used to call Dean Martin’s “Cary Grantish abilities” and created numbers around him that were extremely flattering, and which Martin pulls off awfully well. He gave Jerry formidable female competition, too, in a young dancer-singer from New York named Shirley MacLaine in only her second movie and first success; in one amazing musical number on a flight of stairs, she and Lewis try to outdo each other to the death. Dean’s vis-à-vis is an overtly Vegas-glamorous Dorothy Malone. The boys have a charming sentimental number together, “Pretend,” and there’s a rousing finale at the Artists and Models ball. You can tell that one of Tashlin’s favorite films was Howard Hawks’ gaudy musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes , made just two years before.

On the entire shoot of Hollywood or Bust , Tashlin would tell me, Lewis and Martin did not speak to each other except in their scenes together. “It was a bitch,” Tashlin said. You can’t really tell in the movie, though obviously it doesn’t have the freshness of the earlier film. One of Tashlin’s other favorite directors was Ernst Lubitsch, and there’s a likable musical sequence, “A Day in the Country,” that is an homage to Lubitsch’s famous “Beyond the Blue Horizon” romantic-satiric sequence in Monte Carlo (1930), where all the farmers and country people wave to the passing train; here, it’s all Vegas showgirls dressed in scanty rural outfits, waving to a passing convertible. Tashlin wanted to preface the sequence with a shot of the car going by a county sign that read, “You Are Now Entering Lubitsch,” but the studio took that out. I first saw these movies in my mid-teens, of course, when I was an abject fan of Martin and Lewis, so I do admit to nostalgic attachments.