“Important Things With Demetri Martin”
Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m.
4 out of 5 Stars
Besides being Jon Stewart’s regular outlet for venting, “The Daily Show” has doubled as a comedy farm team of sorts, launching the careers of former contributors like “The Office” cast members Steve Carell and Ed Helms, along with Stephen Colbert (“The Colbert Report”). Comedian Demetri Martin, an occasional correspondent for “The Daily Show,” is the latest in this storied tradition of solo jaunts with his new Comedy Central show “Important Things With Demetri Martin.”
“Important Things” builds from the standard variety-show playbook: Each episode revolves around a specific, esoteric theme — the first two episodes focus on “Timing” and “Power” — that Martin explores through traditional stand-up comedy, songs and sketches. The show’s format is nothing unique, but Martin makes the most of its narrow restraints.
Visually, “Important Things” borrows a lot of its cues from Martin’s stand-up, and it’s easy to see his influence in the show’s minimalistic style. To cut between scenes, the show uses footage of Martin holding a remote made out of paper backed by “Juno”-like musical cues. Arbitrary captions — like one that labels Martin as “Demetri Martin: Person” — are also common. While the show’s visuals can border on obnoxiously quaint, it manages to moderate itself enough to avoid becoming too grating.
Predictably, one of the show’s greatest strengths is Martin’s solo comedy. His deadpan demeanor translates well, and his one-liners (“I wonder if there were any Goths in Gothic times”), drawings and songs are just as sharp. The show’s quick pace also keeps all these segments in check. Hopping between longer sketches, stand-up and shorter interstitial bits, the show tries to avoid sitting on any gag for longer than it needs to, keeping it from dragging.
The show’s sketches aren’t anywhere as consistent, though. Martin’s skills as an actor are limited, and having him anchor the sketches, which make up the bulk of the show, doesn’t work nearly as well as it should. One sketch in the first episode, in which Martin plays an actor with bad timing who can’t get angry when he needs to, has some potential in its premise. But, with Martin’s inexperience as an actor, the sketch never really finds its bearings.
Still, not all of the sketches require the most from Martin, and the ones that put the premise ahead of the comedian himself tend to work best. The sketches that make the most of Martin’s absurdist brand of humor — like one that features Martin as a time-traveling janitor who romances various historical figures — tend to work best.
In the post-“Daily Show” career quality barometer, “Important Things” falls more toward Colbert’s critical success than Lewis Black’s (“Lewis Black’s Root of All Evil”) inconsistency. It gives viewers something that’s reflective of Martin’s best qualities without watering his act down for public consumption. It’s not always as polished as it should and could be, but the strength of Martin and his material makes “Important Things” a worthy addition to the Comedy Central lineup.