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TELEVISION REVIEW

‘Girlfriend’ is an intriguing tease

Michael Blaiklock is one of the off-camera protagonist’s friends in “Secret Girlfriend.’’ Michael Blaiklock is one of the off-camera protagonist’s friends in “Secret Girlfriend.’’ (Mark Davis)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / October 7, 2009

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The format of “Secret Girlfriend’’ is pretty cool. The protagonist of this new Comedy Central series is the invisible guy who’s holding the camera. We never see him, or hear from him; but all the other characters - his two buddies, his ex-girlfriend, his new love interest - look at him and talk to him and call him “you.’’ And as they do that, they’re breaking the fourth wall and addressing us. They pull us into the show as if we’re at its center.

This technique in “Secret Girlfriend,’’ which premieres tonight at 10:30, reminds me of Jay McInerney’s use of the second-person voice in his novel “Bright Lights, Big City.’’ By positioning the audience itself as a young, male character, both the novel and the TV show have an interactive, post-modern tone. We aren’t just watching objectively as a story unfolds; we’re pulled into a highly subjective situation, drawn inside the conflicts of the protagonist’s mind. Each segment of “Secret Girl- friend’’ opens with a subtitle worded in the second person, such as “You and Your Ex Call It Quits.’’

But alas, “Secret Girlfriend’’ doesn’t promise to do anything interesting with its inventive approach. Inside this provocatively self-conscious setup lies a bunch of masturbation jokes, at least in the premiere. The script is built on viral-video-sized gags wrapped in teen-boy fantasies about strip clubs and dangerous women with big breasts. It’s like “Entourage’’ without glamor, heart, or Ari, and it’s like “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’’ without the twisted wit. Also, the super-fast-editing style, and the way each episode is broken into two separate 11-minute-long plots, only makes the material feel even more weightless.

The nameless protagonist runs with a pair of overly familiar slacker dudes, Phil (Derek Miller) and Sam (Michael Blaiklock), whose goal in life is to get hits on their “Jackass’’-style YouTube clips. At the same time, he deals with a stalking, borderline ex-girlfriend named Mandy (Alexis Krause) who goes insane with jealousy at the thought of his new friend, Jessica (Sara E.R. Fletcher). She’s a stereotypical ex-zilla. The only peek at the protagonist we actually get is when he looks at his phone to send texts to his friends and lovers, and we read them.

The idea of a guy behind the glass lens of a video camera watching his crazy social life unfold has the potential to tap into ideas about lives spent online. The 20-something hero of “Secret Girlfriend’’ is so passive and disconnected, he’s a comic, or sad, or wise, or overly careful, or tragically empty figure. Maybe he’s getting ready to leave his prolonged adolescence behind? Maybe he’s coming of age, like so many of the slacker heroes in Judd Apatow movies?

That’s where the show finds its most engaging subject matter, in the tiny, telling glimpses of the man behind the curtain. “Secret Girlfriend’’ could add up to something worthwhile, with more of that kind of elliptical character revelation and fewer generic dirty-boy adventures. Ultimately, I want to know more about “you,’’ not them.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit www.boston.com/ae /tv/blog.

SECRET GIRLFRIEND Starring: Derek Miller, Michael Blaiklock, Alexis Krause, Sara E. R. Fletcher

On: Comedy Central

Time: Tonight, 10:30-11

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