By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 17, 2007
Can political conservatives be funny? George F. Will and William F. Buckley Jr., among a few others, are great wits, but that's different from setting out to generate peals of laughter throughout the land, and managing to do it. "The 1/2 Hour News Hour," a new weekly series from Fox News Channel, aims in part to prove that the right is not so full of itself that it can't get off a zinger or two.
Obviously patterned after "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central (which was just as obviously patterned on the "Weekend Update" segment of NBC's "Saturday Night Live"), "The 1/2 Hour News Hour" (premiering tomorrow night) is for the most part a straightforward mock newscast in which lefties are by far the favored targets. Thus the question "Can the right laugh at itself?" is neither addressed nor answered.
Despite constant, unrelenting protestations that "the media" are controlled by liberals, conservatism has hardly been absent from recent popular humor. For years, a major contributor to "Update," and the author of "SNL's" "cold open" sketch, was a conservative Republican, James Downey. The outrageous puppet movie "Team America" used many Hollywood liberals as literal targets, blowing them to proverbial kingdom come.
All that aside, " 1/2 Hour" definitely has its moments. Anchors "Jennifer Lange" and "Kent McNally" (Jenn Robertson and Kurt Long -- why didn't they just use their real names?) sit at a simple desk and deliver the facetious items without any of the dreadful, overboard mugging and mincing of "Daily Show's" obnoxious Jon Stewart.
The show opens with something of a sketch, however: It's 2009 and guess who's president? Rush Limbaugh, whom we discover seated at an Oval Officey desk and reciting his lines mechanically. When he calls for the vice president, in walks that spooky vampire Ann Coulter, too malicious and frightening to ever be funny. Still, the pair do have a certain star power.
On comes the artificial news. Hillary Rodham Clinton has pledged wide-ranging variety in her version of a Clinton administration, it's reported; she vows to appoint "a diverse group . . . of angry lesbians." An overlong segment on politically correct children's books includes such titles as "Harry Potter and the Alternate Lifestyle" and, for the developmentally challenged, "The Little Engine That Couldn't Quite."
There's a running gag about environmental activist Ed Begley Jr. attempting to get to the studio in a car that runs on, among other things, poopy, and mock commercials trashing the American Civil Liberties Union -- "protecting criminals from people like you since 1920." Here, though, the desire to deliver partisan swift kicks tends to override any impulse to amuse.
On the other hand, a segment in which a "game-show host and climatologist" attempts to link all public events, including Britney Spears's lack of underwear, to global warming has its chucklesome side, as does a plea from "Girl No. 13 on 'Deal or No Deal' " to drum up more causes for Hollywood celebrities to support, because the supply is running low. The inevitable Barack Obama jokes include the observation that a minor scandal caused his popularity among Democrats to plummet "to an all-time low of 99.9 percent."
Executive-produced by Joel Surnow, the man behind Fox's sadistic and preposterous (one hopes) "24," and undoubtedly encouraged by enfant terrible and Fox boss Roger Ailes, "The 1/2 Hour News Hour" is on the semi-amateurish side some of the time, and when it picks on dead revolutionaries such as Che Guevara, it seems lazy as well as tacky.
But those on the left anticipating, and probably hoping for, some kind of ghastly disaster will be disappointed -- and may even feel like joining in the (apparently canned) laughter more times than they'd expect. In a nutshell: It isn't terrible.
The 1/2 Hour News Hour (30 minutes) premieres tomorrow night at 10 on Fox News Channel.