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Television Review

‘Curb’ clone generates little enthusiasm

Reiser lacks David’s brilliance

Paul Reiser (far right, with Koby Rouviere and — back row, from left — Omid Djalili, Ben Shenkman, and Andrew Daly) stars in an NBC sitcom that premieres tonight. Paul Reiser (far right, with Koby Rouviere and — back row, from left — Omid Djalili, Ben Shenkman, and Andrew Daly) stars in an NBC sitcom that premieres tonight. (Richard Foreman/NBC)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / April 14, 2011

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A number of comedian and actor types have played versions of themselves on TV. Kirstie Alley on “Fat Actress,’’ Tori Spelling on “So NoTORIous,’’ Chris Isaak on “The Chris Isaak Show,’’ guest stars such as Kate Winslet, David Bowie, and Daniel Radcliffe on “Extras’’ — they all toyed with their public personas in loosely scripted TV comedies. They were themselves, slightly bent.

But no one has done this as successfully, as originally, or as brilliantly as Larry David on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.’’ Miraculously, David has brought his stubborn neuroses and his karmic view of fate to great levels of universality. He is inimitable, which is why Paul Reiser seems doomed in his new NBC sitcom, which premieres tonight at 8:30 on Channel 7. Called “The Paul Reiser Show,’’ it is Reiser’s attempt to re-do “Curb Your Enthusiasm’’ in a network prime-time setting. As if copying “Curb’’ might be relatively easy or even possible.

Larry David appears in the premiere of “The Paul Reiser Show,’’ to give Reiser his blessing: “You should be doing your version of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ ’’ he tells Reiser over lunch, “because you’re so much worse than I am.’’ Still, the show never takes off, and Reiser, best known for “Mad About You,’’ winds up looking like a shoddy replica. In fact, he’s not nearly “worse’’ than David, and his kvetching and anxiety don’t trigger laughs or comic cringing so much as so-what shrugs. Both David and Reiser play men who’ve made a fortune from a sitcom and yet feel bored, but only David turns that predicament into a rare existential farce.

Like David, Reiser is fitted with a long-suffering wife, Claire (Amy Landecker). Unlike David, Reiser has two young sons, which means he spends lots of time with the fathers of his children’s friends. Reiser doesn’t have much chemistry with these men, and their scenes together only go through the motions of “Men of a Certain Age.’’ The guys — Habib (Omid Djalili), Fernando (Duane Martin), Jonathan (Ben Shenkman), and Brad (Andrew Daly) — don’t have any of the natural give-and-take you expect from a clique. It’s all forced casualness. Next week, Henry Rollins appears as himself on the periphery of Reiser’s circle of friends, an even more strained casting twist.

In tonight’s episode, the best of the four NBC sent for review, Reiser agrees to host a game show, “Start Thinking,’’ in order to stave off an identity crisis. He is a disaster, as he insults the contestants for being so stupid. But reality TV honcho Mark Burnett, making a cameo as the game show’s producer, loves Reiser’s nastiness. “Your misery is the funny part,’’ Burnett says. I found myself wanting to watch that train wreck of a game show — anything that might show Reiser’s more genuinely nasty side.

Maybe David knew what he was doing by urging Reiser to imitate him. He only looks better by comparison.

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

THE PAUL REISER SHOW

Starring: Paul Reiser, Ben Shenkman, Omid Djalili, Andrew Daly, Duane Martin, Amy Landecker

On: NBC, Channel 7

Time: Tonight, 8:30-9