Gangs of New York

ABC’s Knights of Prosperity and In Case of Emergency.

The Knights of Prosperity 

The Knights of Prosperity (ABC, Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET) has a deliberately goofy title—horsy with irony and nicely expressive of a comedy set between quotation marks. The knights in question are a bunch of guys bent on burgling Mick Jagger’s Manhattan apartment—the show was earlier known as Let’s Rob Mick Jagger—and their caper grooves along mock heroically. The show’s creators, Jon Beckerman and Rob Burnett, came up through David Letterman’s writing staff, and their best jokes catch the tone of their boss’s glory days. The Knight of Prosperity is a Stupid Heist Trick.

The leader of the pack is Eugene Gurkin (Donal Logue), a night-shift janitor inspired to follow his dream of starting a bar after a colleague falls ill while scrubbing urinals and croaks. Receiving no love from his local small-business loan officer, Eugene goes home to soak in the bath, suck on a flask, and toke on some TV, where he encounters a guided tour of Mick’s $52-million pleasure dome on E! News. Eugene resolves to plunder it and, possessed of little more than a laser pointer and a motivational poster (“FOCUS”), gets a gang together.

This is blue-collar comedy in the same sense as My Name Is Earl—a slanted bit of college-boy cleverness involving persons not referred to as “upscale” in ad-sales meetings. There’s a co-worker of Eugene’s who hails from either The Honeymooners’ Bensonhurst or The King of Queens’ Rego Park; a cabdriver who had been a lawyer in his native India; and a rotund security guard valued by Eugene, in a pep talk, for his “gigantic black guy super-strength” and by the casting director for his voice, a kind of Barry White buffa bass. For a babe, there is a Colombian diner waitress, a caricature of a babe; the male Knights buy her a break-in outfit comprising a gleaming Zeta-Jonesian cat suit and what are either last spring’s Lanvin platform peep-toes or standard-issue stripper shoes. They have an intern, Louis, who shares his overeagerness, asexuality, and skim-milk complexion with Kenneth, the page on 30 Rock. The Knights have a happy mutt’s lovability.

The references—to Reaganomics and Grease and WKRP in Cincinnati and Pat Sajak—try variously to work the spell of kitsch, to evoke the old New York of Archie Bunker and George Jefferson, and to revel in randomness. The actual jokes arrive inconsistently, but there’s fodder for one full-bodied laugh in every act, as when the intern, taking lessons in the art of physical love from the taxi driver, sits shotgun in the on-duty cab and humps the air in time to Peter Gabriel’s “Shock the Monkey.” And then there is Jagger, appearing as himself in the pilot and glorying in the role, as usual. “This is my swimming pool,” he tells viewers of the show within the show. “It’s a great pool, so I’m told. Actually, I hate getting wet myself, but dogs love it.” Jagger then flashes the molars in that wide mouth and a tennis ball in his right hand. Windup; toss. Beat. Pan to splashing collies; cut back to the mannish boy, amply satisfied. That’s the spirit of this charming enterprise—silly excess.

In Case of Emergency 

Network executives undoubtedly overused the term no-brainer in discussing the pairing of The Knights of Prosperity and In Case of Emergency (ABC, Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. ET); they share an antic quality, an edgy rudeness. The latter show concerns four high-school classmates who, two decades on, are flailing spectacularly. Harry (Jonathan Silverman), once the captain of the debate team, is now a failed novelist who runs into Kelly (Kelly Hu), the class valedictorian, at a Korean massage parlor, where she undertakes to relieve his stress in a manner I didn’t know you could dramatize quite so vividly before 10 p.m. Jason (David Arquette), potentially facing indictment for his role in a corporate fraud, cannot even do a competent job of shooting himself in the head. Sherman (Greg Germann), a former fat boy who rose to fame as an unctuous diet guru, gets dumped by his wife and, suffering a meltdown, hijacks a pastry-delivery truck. The premise isn’t bad, and the pilot of In Case of Emergency, with its skillful pratfalls and ragged seething, shows a great deal of promise, all of which gets squandered next week.

Hu, quite possibly a limber comedienne, will be tasked, foremost, with filling out an undersized t-shirt. Arquette’s Jason will pitch woo at a golden-haired ER doctor with a series of pleading shrugs and squints, splatting out the same note ad nauseam. Inventive though he is, Germann, late of Ally McBeal, will begin to drown in sap, much of it trickling from Silverman’s direction as his character instigates mistiness about softball games of yore and rouses his comrades from self-pity with thoughts of redemption.

Silverman, best remembered as the guy in Weekend at Bernie’s who is neither Andrew McCarthy nor a corpse, is highly problematic, and he knows this. The TV Set, a big-screen satire of network cretinism opening later this year, features a running joke about Silverman’s viability as a sitcom star, and the actor is game enough to play along with it, making a cameo and sending up the amiable mediocrity that this show tries to pass off as charisma.