|Lewis Black serves as the judge, presiding over mock trials. The first show pits Oprah against the Catholic Church to find out which is more dangerous to society. (Evans ward/comedy central via ap)|
Lewis Black's mocking trials
The idea behind "Lewis Black's Root of All Evil" is cute enough. The new Comedy Central series is a send-up of those syndicated celebrity-judge shows starring Judge Wapner, Judge Judy, and Judge Joe Brown. Since America often looks to pop culture - to celebrity judges, talk-show hosts, reality-show players - for its moral education, Lewis Black wants to teach us a thing or two.
The abrasive Black, who barks out his opinions as a regular contributor on "The Daily Show," serves as the judge on a bench, presiding over mock trials that debate which party is more dangerous to society. In the premiere, tonight at 10:30, Black hears the case of Oprah Winfrey versus the Catholic Church, with two comics acting as lawyers. Greg Giraldo tries to portray the Church as the root of all evil, while Paul F. Tompkins works hard to persuade us that Oprah is to be feared even more.
Obviously, "Root of All Evil" is a farce, a ferocious trash-talking competition with only a passing resemblance to courtroom shows. It should be a sharp showcase for the two comics making arguments, as well as for Black, who gets to ask questions and chime in with the final verdict when all is said and done. But the material isn't nearly strong enough to support a full half-hour of TV. The joking on both sides wears thin very quickly, as lines such as "Oprah is very fat of heart" begin to emerge. The arguments appear to have been scripted in advance, which means they should be a whole lot more clever and relevant.
Maybe the half hour gets so tiring because the topics are so profoundly unimaginative. Are there really any new jokes to be made about Oprah? Maybe there's enough juice for a quick one-liner in a Jay Leno monologue, maybe not. Stretched-out bits about how Oprah is like a cult leader are dated indeed, as are complaints about how she always puts herself on the cover of her own magazine. Next week's episode is just as flat. The comic lawyers argue the case of Donald Trump versus Viagra. Yup, a half-hour of goofs on Trump's hair and impotence.
Positioning Black as the judge is a great way to incorporate him into a weekly format. If he and the writers can come up with some fresher cases, and maybe argue more than one case per episode, "Root of All Evil" will pick up momentum. Maybe the production schedule can begin to allow the writers to play off the news, in the manner of "The Daily Show," so that Black can go off on what matters at this very moment. Then the series could be timely, instead of just timeworn.