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TELEVISION REVIEW

Carlin gets philosophical at expense of belly laughs

Anyone who thought age or rehab had mellowed George Carlin could put those thoughts to rest when he walked out through fog onto a set of snowy graves Saturday night for his live HBO special, ''Life Is Worth Losing." Twenty minutes in, he had already covered suicide, assassination, genocide, and torture. By the 30-minute mark, he had added human sacrifice, Aztec cannibalism, beheadings in Iraq, and the complete breakdown of society following the removal of electricity. And he still had 45 minutes to go.

''Life Is Worth Losing" isn't so much a comedy special as it is a statement of philosophy, rants against the worst parts of human nature. Carlin has insisted repeatedly that he's not angry when he bashes humanity, and this was proof. After a long exploration through our collective brutal and murderous tendencies, Carlin described his dream -- that a wave of liquid hate will wash through the universe, wiping the slate clean and then leaving a world where everyone loves each other and where perpetual loser Uncle Dave wins the lottery every week. ''Now do you see why I like it when nature gets even with humans?"

It's brilliant imagery, but offers few belly laughs. Carlin got more cheers than laughs from his audience, which can be deadly for a comic. Anyone looking for the big punch line should go back to ''Jammin' in New York" for the more political Carlin or ''Carlin at Carnegie" for his goofier side. Or wait for his next special, called ''Watch Your Language," -- put on the back burner for this one -- which he's said will be about communication and devoid of cursing.

No other comedian has been as prolific for as long as Carlin, and no one works harder on material. But after his opening riff on modern man, a beat poem where it seemed like he was channeling '60s hipster comic Lord Buckley, Carlin seemed hoarse and not quite as crisp as usual. Among his 13 HBO specials, with more certainly to come, ''Life" is a puzzling anomaly. It might make you think more than it will make you laugh, but Carlin is capable of provoking both.

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