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The tombstone was built on the head of "Cedric the Entertainer Presents" the minute Cedric the Entertainer uttered the words "variety show". Many have tried to resurrect the long-dead prime-time variety show and all have failed, notably Dana Carvey in a short-lived 1998 sketch series.
There are moments in "Presents", such as an opening dance number where the comic emerges from a troop of scantly-clad dancers, "The Sensations", when the show briefly hearkens back to the days of Donnie and Marie Osmond but gives it a new millennial twist. The host on stage, in front of a visible audience, doing whatever he wanted for the half hour. There is something admirable in the attempt. Much of the time however, "Presents" is more "Mad TV" with silly, grotesquely unfunny sketches filled with 4th wall breaking musical numbers.
Second only to a daytime talk show (Wayne Brady knows that), nothing is quite as stifling to talent or lowering in dignity as a variety series. And the pressure to fill 22 minutes worth of slam-bang, all different, quality sketches or risk the audience changing the channel is enough to drive anyone insane. Coming off of his "Kings of Comedy Tour" movie, the blisteringly funny Cedric the Entertainer seems like a strange fit for a variety show. The guy , in fact, a renaissance man. He sings, he dances, and he does more than a lot of both in this show. Probably more than contemporary audiences want to see.
Like his "Kings" co-star Bernie Mac, he is neutered to broadcast network television standards here, forced to mellow out and appeal to demographics while paired with a troop of ensemble players whom he has little chemistry with. Of the group J. B. Smoove is the funniest - often upstaging Cedric.
The problem (and I hate to use that cliché) is that the Entertainer just doesn't make this show his own. He doesn't use the platform to bring us his vision, through his voice. The show was going to be canceled anyway, people just don't watch variety shows each week the way they did decades ago, he should have said "to hell with it" and shaped the show into whatever outrageous thing he wanted - this sure doesn't seem like it - and gone down with the ship. Instead, we've got him running through the same annoying character sketches, such as a regularly appearing Cafeteria lunch lady and a musical therapist Dr. Love.
Many have tried and all have failed, so the prime-time sketch comedy series still remains an archaic genre. (Well, as of this writing Dave Chappelle has done it and done it in spades, but transporting back to when this show was running in 2002, "Chappelle's Show" has yet to take off). "Presents" is almost cringe-worthy and not worth the time except for those who want to see Cedric the Entertainer embarrassing himself and hear tire racial stereotype jokes. Zero laughs.
* / 4
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