By John Maynard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Mr. T, it's time to quit your "jibba jabba."
For decades, we've embraced the mohawked muscleman as the good-hearted tough guy. He snarls, he finger-points, he fist-mashes, but he usually has delivered a positive message such as "Don't do drugs" or "Stay in school."
But now comes Mr. T in TV Land's "I Pity the Fool," a treacly, overbearing reality show based on the catchphrase he popularized on his 1980s TV hit "The A-Team." The new program, which sends Mr. T on motivational missions, is a half-hour of the star spewing clunky cliches and mind-numbing advice as he and the participants get embarrassingly sentimental.
We won't quite say we pity the fool who watches this show, but we warn potential viewers by quoting Mr. T himself: "You betta watch out, sucka."
Mr. T likens himself to an anti-Dr. Phil, eschewing touchy-feely banter and instead inspiring people in his inimitable style. And that apparently means throwing out words that prominently contain the sound of the letter "T": He tells us in the opening-credit sequence that the show is all about "accountabili-T," "activi-T" and "positive mentali-T."
Reality shows can serve as career comebacks for some forgotten celebrities (paging Danny Bonaduce), but Mr. T has never really exited the pop culture periphery since playing Clubber Lang in 1982's "Rocky III." Since the '80s, when he also had a popular cartoon show and would enter the "WrestleMania" ring, he's remained in the spotlight primarily through his frequent screen appearances -- including late-night talk shows, TV's "Simpsons" and "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," and such gag films as "Spy Hard" and "Not Another Teen Movie."
Plus, you could find him hawking some product, from Comcast cable to Hanes socks.
On "I Pity the Fool," he now delivers his tough talk to people in need. His first mission is to help a dysfunctional New York car dealership. As the beleaguered sales staff cheers, he arrives wearing a too-tight red sweat suit (where we realize he's no longer at his fighting weight) but not wearing his trademark gold chains. (Mr. T stopped wearing them after Hurricane Katrina. "As a spiritual man, I felt it would be a sin against my God for me to wear all that gold again because I spent a lot of time with the less fortunate," he told TV critics this past summer.)
Unfortunately, the show's painful wordplay is unrelenting. The dealership is "stuck in neutral," the staff is "pretty much asleep at the wheel" and he's there to put "motivation in the tank."
Then there's this groaner after the boss and the general manager (who are in-laws) have a tearful heart-to-heart: "Two things I know were working," Mr T says, his voice lowering. "The windshield wipers in Scott's eyes and the radiator in Mr. Nemet's heart."
Yes, he really said it.
Mr. T never really offers practical advice, but his mere presence does seem to be a motivating factor. In one scene, he even dons a three-piece suit and tries to sell a car -- which he does right away . . . to a fan.
"I liked you since the first moment I saw you on the 'The A-Team,' " the buyer says.
Mr. T might be able to sell autos, but he can't sell this star vehicle.
I Pity the Fool (30 minutes) premieres tonight at 10 on TV Land.