Showtime has its head in the clouds with new comedy series

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BY ROBERT SOAVE
Daily Arts Writer
Published January 31, 2010

There’s an early moment in the premiere episode of Showtime’s “La La Land,” when British comedian Marc Wootton (“Confetti”) — portraying an aspiring actor named Gary Garner — insists he has what it takes to make it in Hollywood. As he recites this mantra, obscure actress Ruta Lee repeatedly tells him that he isn’t talented. She might as well be talking to Wootton himself, who is as amateurish as the characters he portrays in “La La Land.”

"La La Land"


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The premise is strikingly similar to Sacha Baron Cohen’s comedy-reality hybrid “Da Ali G Show.” Wootton pretends to be three different characters who attempt to launch careers in the entertainment world by interacting with various pseudo-celebrities. Though each of Wootton’s characters has a distinct (and cringe-worthy) appearance, it’s hard to distinguish their personalities from each other since they’re all so clueless and annoying. Gary may be the most annoying, though documentary filmmaker Brendan Allen is definitely the most boring. As for effeminate, celebrity-channeling psychic Shirley Ghostman, he's impossible to even comprehend.

The main problem for Wootton is that Cohen already exists — and thanks to the relative theatrical success of “Borat” and “Bruno,” everybody is pretty familiar with his work. Because “La La Land” shares so many obvious similarities with “Da Ali G Show,” it’s impossible not to compare the two. Unfortunately, Wootton doesn’t weather such a comparison very well.

Cohen was successful because he exposed racism, homophobia and stupidity in the people he interviewed — from regular Americans to U.S. politicians. Wootton seemingly does just the opposite. The arrogant, empty-headed Hollywood regulars he interacts with are obviously idiots, but Wootton ends up making them seem smart and sympathetic when compared with the unbearably irritating Gary, Shirley and Brendan.

Yes, there are some laughs now and then. Ghostman probably succeeds most often at generating funny moments, and it’s clear that this character (who had his own short-lived TV show in the U.K.) is the one Wootton is most comfortable playing. But why does Shirley have a woman’s name and hairstyle when the character is supposed to be a man? Is this part of the joke? It’s unanswerable questions like this one that make all three of them seem pretty random.

Absent the political and social satire that made “Da Ali G Show” so memorable, “La La Land" leaves its viewers wondering, “So what?” After all, no one needs to watch a show about Hollywood to know that the people who live there aren’t very personable. What, then, is Wootton preaching? That the British have a weird sense of humor? That the people at Showtime who greenlit “La La Land” made a serious mistake?

Ali G, Borat and Bruno may be retired, but if what the world needs is another Sacha Baron Cohen, somebody other than Marc Wootton needs to step up. It’s clear that his sense of humor is, well, off in la la land.