The first episode of "The Knights of Prosperity" is a gas, gas, gas, as guest star Mick Jagger parodies his wealth with a mock E! channel special about his deluxe Manhattan crib. Oozing nouveau-riche satisfaction, Mick shows us the indoor pool for his dogs, a "Sticky Fingers" statue that spits butter onto popcorn, and the tub in which our beloved, be-lipped icon takes his yogurt baths. "Good for the skin!" he gushes. "Fantastic!"
Touring his palatial hat room, he shares his styling wisdom like a sixth Fab Fiver: "You're never alone with a hat," he advises.
Everything else in "The Knights of Prosperity," about blue-collar workers plotting to rob Mick's apartment, ought to pale next to this material. But remarkably, it doesn't, and the rest of the sitcom, which premieres tonight at 9 on Ch annel 5, works like a charm.
By next week's episode, it's clear that ABC might finally have a shot at a comedy hit that's more imaginative than "According to Jim." With scruffy Donal Logue as janitor Eugene Gurkin leading his five bumbling cohorts into the elaborate burglary, "Knights" has more than enough texture and wit to survive Mick. (Jagger has not yet committed to any more appearances on the series.)
Some sitcoms ignore money -- "Friends" and "Seinfeld," for example, weren't self-conscious about their own class issues. But like "My Name Is Earl," with which it has much in common, "Knights" jumps right into America's socioeconomic divide for its drive and humor. Mick is the show's flaunting symbol of the Haves, while Eugene is the self-appointed king of the Have Nots. Watching the E! special after a day of plunging toilets, Eugene hatches his plot to steal enough from Jagger to finance a bar and get out of his rut. While Earl on "My Name Is Earl" had his "Aha!" moment watching Carson Daly talk about karma, Eugene is struck by the excess of E!.
He enlists a few struggling friends in his plan, and they agree to become Robin Hood and his Merry Band, sort of. "We're stealing from the rich to give to the poor: Us," Eugene tells them.
The Knights of Prosperity, as Eugene calls them, are planning a crime, of course; but the show gets us to root for them as lovable outsider-heroes. Aware that theft is probably their best chance at the American Dream, the Knights are just being practical and proactive.
In this context of affection for its inept underdogs, creators Rob Burnett and Jon Beckerman (the team also created "Ed") poke much politically incorrect fun at them. Gourishankar (Maz Jobrani), an Indian cab driver, and Esperanza (Sofia Vergara), a Latina waitress, are sitcom parodies of their ethnicity, particularly as the actors intensify their accents for laughs. Chubby black security guard Rockefeller Butts (Kevin Michael Richardson) is like a big-eating, smooth-loving live-action version of Chef from "South Park." And the Knights hold their nighttime meetings at a Jewish supplies warehouse, where they are seen conspiring among menorahs and "Kiss Me I'm a Mensch" T-shirts.
To embrace "Knights," you have to have a taste for the kind of comedy that teases because it loves; the show will probably elicit a complaint or two from humorless cultural organizations.
"Knights" is a single-camera sitcom, so we are not subjected to laugh-track guffaws whenever Rockefeller Butts eats another cookie or a dreidel is spun. The show doesn't laugh at itself, and, as on "Scrubs," some jokes fly by unnoticed the first time around.
Originally, the show was called "Let's Rob Mick Jagger." But the new title has a nice sense of irony, as it gives its klutzy amateurs such a lofty label, and it also has durability. Now, if the show catches on, and I think it will, the Knights will be perfectly free to steal from other rich and famous people.