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David Cross is the creator of Comedy Central's 'Freak Show,' premiering tonight.
David Cross is the creator of Comedy Central's "Freak Show," premiering tonight. (Globe Staff)
TELEVISION REVIEW

Off-kilter 'Freak Show' needs a clearer focus

I'm inclined to like anything that has David Cross's name on it. As the clueless Tobias Funke on ``Arrested Development," he gave a shameless, hysterical performance, and his cool comedy resume also includes writing for ``The Ben Stiller Show" and co-creating HBO's ``Mr. Show With Bob and Dave." He has a sick brilliance, and yes, it speaks to me.

Tonight at 10:30, Cross's name is on a new Comedy Central animated series called ``Freak Show," which he co-created with H. Jon Benjamin. And it's sick all right, although not as brilliant as it should be. There is such a thing as a twisted animated series that works equally well in a dorm room and on the TV of a New Yorker subscriber; ``South Park," which is on right before ``Freak Show," is such a venture. ``Freak Show" aspires to be both infantile and yet politically and socially astute, and it falls short on the latter. The satire doesn't quite hit its marks.

The action revolves around a bumbling group of carnival freaks who band together like superheroes to take on very low-priority government missions for the Pentagon. In the premiere, for example, the freak squad travels to an island to retrieve rare nuts for the U S president. The island is under the dictatorship of General M'Dinka Magoobi, who speaks with a German accent and exports human blood. Can the misfits get the nuts and return unharmed? No, that is not a rhetorical question.

The freaks include Premature Baby Primi, who has the ability to pinpoint vomit; Siamese twins Tuck and Benny, who have the power to separate; and Log Cabin Republican, a fey gay man who can transform himself into the leather-clad Burly Bear as needed.

The imaginations that came up with these and the other characters, including a man from Freak Mart who is trying to buy the squad from the carnival owners, are clearly off-kilter. And that is a good thing. But the writing of the show doesn't resonate, which is essential on animated comedy. ``The Simpsons," ``Family Guy," the best of ``Adult Swim " all have some clear targets amid their anarchy. Perhaps ``Freak Show" will gain an identity and a purpose as the episodes unfold. Hey, freakier things have happened.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com.

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