Silverman hits new low with season premier

BY JAMIE BLOCK
Daily Arts Writer
Published October 5, 2008

“The Sarah Silverman Program”
Thursdays at 10:30 p.m.
Comedy Central

Courtesy of Comedy Central

1.5 out of 5 stars

“The Sarah Silverman Program” has never claimed to be intellectual, but the new season takes low-brow humor to an even lower low. Silverman assumes, as she always has, that crude and funny go hand in hand, but this season is evidence to the contrary. Each of the two episodes debuting this week have at most two lines that could make anyone chuckle, let alone laugh out loud.

“The Sarah Silverman Program” follows the fictional life of actress and comedienne Sarah Silverman (“School of Rock”). In each episode she gets into outlandish adventures with her gay friends Brian and Steve, played by Brian Posehn (“Just Shoot Me!”) and Steve Agee (“Stay”). Trying to keep everybody sane are Sarah’s sister Laura Silverman (“Half Baked”) and her fictional husband Officer Jay McPherson, played by Jay Johnston (“Arrested Development”).

In the season premiere, “High, It’s Sarah,” Silverman and Brian discover — with a little help from a lot of pot — that a corrupt corporation is selling both snacks that cause diarrhea and the medicine to cure it. Subsequently, they decide the only solution is to take the company down. In the second episode, “The Mongolian Beef,” Sarah gets caught up in a legal bind with the Mongolian Tourism Board after discovering her Russian ancestors had been raped by Mongolians centuries ago. Both plots are senseless, absurd and hardly add any humor to the show.

Silverman has always been known for pushing boundaries, but for some reason she’s strayed away from it this season, going for crude or stupid humor while leaving many stereotypes unscathed. There’s one racial joke in each of the first two episodes, and they’re the comedic highlights of the two-night premiere. Silverman is probably depending on the sheer absurdity of the storylines to carry the show, but the strange plot twists she introduces are nothing new to Comedy Central. The abrupt, senseless tangents are reminiscent of "South Park," but aren’t executed as well and aren’t nearly as funny.

While the actors demonstrate good comedic timing, a comedy is rarely successful unless a few of the jokes have some shock value and geniune creativity. “Sarah Silverman” is full of predictable jokes mixed into a spontaneous plot. Silverman would have been better off if she switched this around, making the jokes surprising but the plot predictable, since the plot has always been an afterthought anyway.

The few jokes — and there are very few — that take the viewer completely by surprise are the redeeming moments of the show. The previous two seasons had many more shocking jokes, and while it’s unclear whether this change was intentional or accidental, it’s definitely for the worse.

Die-hard fans may still be entertained, but they will probably feel a little let down. Previous seasons took jabs at many racial, religious and social groups, while the new season’s humor is just silliness for the sake of silliness. You could watch this with your parents without feeling uncomfortable, a sure sign that Silverman is off her game.