Any casual viewer of this year’s baseball playoffs on TBS will instantly recognize the swollen head of Frank Caliendo (“Mad TV”). The funnyman and impressionist transformed into Terry Bradshaw, Al Pacino and others to promote his new sketch-comedy show “Frank TV” through an estimated 145 promos aired throughout playoff season. But those same viewers have already seen “Frank TV,” for the show is nothing but a chance for Caliendo to show off his impressive but tiring range of vocal impressions.
The opening scene of “Frank TV,” where a Rod Roddy-esque announcer played by Caliendo introduces – you guessed it – Caliendo, sets the tone for the show. If he isn’t your style, it’s going to get old quickly. Fortunately, the real Caliendo, whose self-deprecating frat-boy (or fat-boy) shtick seems borrowed from Jimmy Kimmel, soon delves into the most interesting part of himself: his impressions. In the first episode, Caliendo spends ample time on his go-to imitation, an exaggerated John Madden, complete with tangential ramblings, voracious appetite and, in this episode, an inscrutable obsession with “turducken.” Caliendo has an undeniable talent for echoing the vocal timbre of celebrities, and his blustery baritone matches Madden’s to a T.
But the real test of “Frank TV” is whether Caliendo can bring sharp, incisive wit to his impressions, or whether they will ultimately turn into obnoxious caricatures. The man of a thousand voices does show comedic wisdom in spots. “Seinfeld 2027,” a sketch featuring Caliendo playing all four Seinfeld members in the future – including a fat, graying Elaine – provides a smart, all-too-possible window into a future where the gang obsesses over stem cells and global warming instead of no-fat yogurt and shrinkage. A movie-review show hosted by Caliendo’s De Niro and Pacino humorously portrays the respected actors as bickering Siskel-and-Ebert-type partners who dump movies over petty concerns like showing time or name. “That’s a pretty long name right there, Mr. Whatever’s Whatchamacall,” De Niro complains.
But some of Caliendo’s impressions are unoriginal and leave the viewer stranded in stereotypes. His Bush and Clinton imitations are nothing but recycled talk-show jokes repackaged as kitschy sketches. Oh, Bill Clinton is a fan of womanizing? And Dubya isn’t exactly the best public speaker? These jokes have been driven into the ground – plus, Caliendo’s Bush is no better than Will Ferrell’s, and at least Ferrell looked like him.
That’s the other problem with “Frank TV” – it asks for a suspension of disbelief viewers might not be able to concede. Caliendo looks nothing like most of the celebrities he portrays, and it often seems as though he isn’t even attempting to match appearance with sound. His Charles Barkley, for example, looks like he spent three days at a tanning salon and bought a fake goatee in a costume shop for $3.
Caliendo’s imitations are funny in small doses: his pompous Madden on “Sunday NFL Countdown,” his fleeting impersonations on “Mad TV.” But watching a whole show of this is kind of like spending a day with that kid in grade school who did a great Eric Cartman – you’re likely to be disappointed and irritated when you realize the impression is the joke, and neither Caliendo nor the kid provides any sort of real comedic insight.
2 out of 5 stars.