Saturday, February 03, 2007

Getting with the Program

I gotta admit I was pretty late coming to the whole Sarah Silverman thing. Is it age that’s keeping me so out of synch with contemporary pop culture or has really deteriorated to the point of not caring or is it just a reflection of what a lousy country this has become.

First, I thought that besides an interview with Phyllis Diller (yep, it could be an age thing), that the Aristocrats was a witless and boring film. Silverman’s segment that had so much buzz was something that made no impact on me. I really hated Jesus Is Magic too. Not that it offended me as msuch as I kept waiting for humor. It never came – to me at least. And you could make the case that while Michael Richards goes in to rehab for making racist barbs, Ms. Silverman gets her own TV series.

But to ignore Silverman would be like turning off Iraq or Darfur headlines. Painful as it might be to watch, you have to admit that they are there.

So I came to the Sarah Silverman Program with considerable trepidation but was at least amused by the title. It’s pretty rare a series would be called a “program.” Stars usually have a “show” or “hour” and got to a “program” for recovery. I’ll have to admit that I found most of it, fecal jokes not withstanding, reasonably amusing. Perhaps because I tend to think a singularly obnoxious character is usually best put into a situation. For all its post-modern vibe, the show still uses pretty much the rusty framework of a sitcom with a circle of friends, albeit radically reworking it.

Somebody said that Silverman is not asking the audience to laugh at or with her but that she’s laughing at the audience. Perhaps. I’d add that I don’t think her style of humor is post-modern at all but more pre-modern of the old Catskills variety. It’s not completely unrelated that the album Jewface has recently been released and causing equally charged debate about whether it’s airing of ethnic stereotypes hurts or helps. The question, of course, is whether or not Silverman believes the words coming out of her mouth or she’s saying the things we all want to say but don’t have the nerve to say.

Unpleasant characters in sitcoms are not new, as has been pointed out in reviews that compare Silverman's show to a version of Seinfeld that makes that 1990s staple look like The Dick Van Dyke Show by comparison. To its credit there is never a big group hug, something that prevented WIll & Grace from turning out to be a better show than it was.

I don’t think it’s that simple. I don’t like being told what to think or say, but I also think many who blast political correctness are using that as an out to rude and cruel. Silverman, of course is playing a character who is mean and perky. That’s a bit harder riddle to solve.

There was an NPR piece this week on the life of Zora Neale Hurston and her difficult to place legacy in the Harlem Renaissance. Was it condescending for an educated African American woman to document the lives of those who lacked her exposure to higher art and learning? And where does Silverman fit into that. I don’t think she went to Sarah Lawrence of Smith but comes from a more pure showbiz background. Perhaps hers is a road that leads back to Phyllis Diller and she’ll end up starring in a remake of the Pruitts of Southampton.


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