Root of All Evil (2008– )
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OK, so we have Lewis Black, and two guys who take each side of the debate. (Catholic Church vs. Oprah in this case.) That's all well and good, but most of the show is THE TWO OTHER GUYS! While they weren't bad, I didn't tune in to the show called "two other guys: the root of all evil", I tuned in to "LEWIS BLACK: the root of all evil". If it has your name in it, YOU SHOULD HAVE THE MOST LINES AND SCREEN TIME, PERIOD!
Was it funny? In spots I genuinely laughed. But I couldn't help but feeling that this would be SO much more funny if Lewis Black just got up there and riffed the way WE KNOW he can riff on a subject. That's what I wanted to see, what the title PROMISES I'll see, and the show just doesn't deliver that.
So if you're expecting something along the lines of LB's stand up routines, or a long form version of LB's rants on The Daily Show, you'll be soooooooorely disappointed. On its own without preconceived notions (just pretend it's called "two other guys with a special appearance by lewis black"), it's OK... not stellar, but not awful, either.
The worst thing about Root of All Evil is probably Lewis Black. He comes across as a bombastic parody of himself and while a lot of his lines work, it has the same scripted quality that his later Daily Show spots had.
However, the core of the show, two comedians debating a ludicrous point works very well. The format particularly suits the deadpan character work of Andrew Daly, Paul F Tompkins' raconteur delivery and Andy Kindler's deconstructive approach and the show is a special delight when any of those three are on screen.
And boy was I not disappointed.
The first episode puts on trial Oprah Winfrey and The Catholic Church. To decide once and for all which is the root of all evil between them.
I won't tell you how it ended, but I will say this. The debates on both sides were sharp, and funny, and with Lewis Black as the much deserving judge, I very much enjoyed the show, and intend to keep watching.
Good stuff Mr. Black, good to have you back.
Anyway, I saw the first episode and it was funny throughout, especially if you like Lewis Black's rants. They covered politics, religion and celebrities which makes me hope there will be more of this show in the future.
Despite the suspicious audience, this show deserves to be given a chance.
The format, while sounding good, is actually part of the problem. In a 20 minute show it is very fragmented and scripted; I get that it is television, not improv or stand-up, but the stiffness of it and the very precise delivery of bits tends to rob it of energy and life. The comedians deliver their short bits in a way that never feels natural indeed even the moments of banter between them feel over-rehearsed and lacking spark. The subjects chosen offer potential and to be fair in each episode I would say there is at least one or two good laughs or chuckles to be had, but mostly it is material that feels like it needed a bit more work on the writing in order to have some flair to it, and then a bit more freedom to deliver it.
This feeling extends to Black himself; he is really hemmed in by the format, delivering his material in very strict blocks and never having the time and freedom to build as well as I have seen him do on TDS. His lines may occasionally be funny, but not very often. The sense of material lacking refinement, a format that seems to know it is not really working, and comedians not really consistently on their best form, is all made that little bit worse by the production itself. The set itself looks a bit second-rate, but it is the audience that is the issue well, not so much them, but the way the audience is presented. All through the show we have what is clearly canned laughter, and I found it really quite annoying and distracting to have the taped audience trying to force me to believe that a rather so-so line was actually the most hilarious thing ever. It doesn't help again that we can actually see the audience in the background of many of the shots and thus we see them let out a sort of smile/snort reaction at a time when the laugh track would have us believe everyone is rolling in the aisles.
It is a shame because maybe with a bit less production and a bit less rigidity, this could have been quite fun, but unfortunately it is really very little to talk about. The most immediately noticeable mistake is that Black himself is wasted as a resource due to the format, but sadly it is only the first of many things that really fall below the required level in this show.
It's a novel idea that might not have legs to last several seasons, but good enough to allow those talented under-the-radar humorists like Andrew Daly, Patton Oswalt, Greg Giraldo, Andy Kindler and Paul F Tompkins to riff on various topics in what sort of plays as a comedic sport. Lewis Black could stand to play a larger role in the show. Every comic has their own unique style and everyone has their own preferences. I get a kick out of Tomkins and Daly who take themselves as seriously as lawyers because they're suddenly dressed in suits. You can also never get enough of the debate over which is worse: Beer or Weed, American Idol or High School, Donald Trump vs Tila Tequila, etc.