Acceptable TV (VH1), a new sketch show created by Jack Black and a couple of cohorts, airs Fridays at 10 p.m. ET, and the producers grant the audience several days to tell them which parts of each episode suck the least. It’s a would-be multiplatform juggernaut, an experiment in media convergence executive-produced by Black, Dan Harmon, and Rob Schrab. In a badly typed press release, Harmon and Schrab pat themselves on the back, if not the wallet, for “anticipating the YouTube revolution by a several years” with Channel101.com. On the air, as a perfectly acceptable host, Harmon exudes a confident glibness while explaining the ins and outs of the concept. Black turns up on-screen to tell home viewers how to upload their own digital shorts and to make some vulgar gestures also pertaining to ins and outs. He needs to shave.
“Here’s the deal,” says the announcer at the opening. “You’re about to see five television shows, each no longer than the average span of attention. After the show, you’re gonna vote for your favorites using the Internet or your cell phone. Next week, the two most acceptable shows will be back with a new episode. The other three will be canceled and replaced with new shows. We hope this makes your TV more acceptable.” He keeps hitting that acceptable very hard. Is the show operating from the snob’s premise that TV programming is inherently lame? Is this an attempt to jump-start a catchphrase? Will Acceptable TV’s core audience—common-room marijuana enthusiasts, quite obviously—chuckle at it?
Of the five shows in the series premiere, four employ a game company of gamboling actors, and the fifth is animated. “Joke Chasers,” the first and clearly the best of the lot, zips and swoops in a parody of procedural as a forensic team tries to substantiate a four-decades-old joke about a black guy, a Chinese guy, and a Polish guy who got a flat tire on a country road. The investigation leads to a house in rural Virginia and an interview with its current owner. “You say that your grandfather was a farmer. Did he, by any chance, have a nymphomaniac daughter?” Why, yes, that would be Aunt Tess, who used to sleep at the top of the stairs. It’s snappy.
“Joke Chasers” establishes the tone; Acceptable TV has its mind on pop parody—and lost its heart in the eighth-grade lunchroom. “Who Farted?”, a spoof of prime-time game shows, gets no better than its concept, according to which the silhouetted banker of Deal or No Deal has made way for a “fartmaster.” “Homeless James Bond” is not without its rude amusements—the Q figure offers a passionate tutorial in the exotic technological implications of a flathead screwdriver—but relies rather too heavily on gags involving corrugated cardboard.
It would be best to let “The Teensies,” a mock drama about mouse-sized humans, pass without comment, but the cartoon “Mister Sprinkles” is a gag to behold. Therein, an unhinged Cat in the Hat-type goes to visit kids but only touches off crying jags and bad trips. Mister Sprinkles is combative when his shrink tries to force reality upon him:
“When it rains, you terrorize children—”
“I help them!”
“—by going into their homes and making messes, by balancing things.”
Between these segments, Harmon—his persona is Comedy Central hipster crossed with Jimmy Kimmel frat boy—shows up to lather us with product placements and knowing smarm:
“The Amp’d mobile company gave us a ton of money this season, and we’re gonna reward them with some integrated advertising. Integrated means you won’t even notice it. Speaking of Amp’d mobile phones. … ”
But wait, there’s less—the amateur bits that Acceptable TV is soliciting from viewers like you. Or, it would seem, anybody with a camera and a free half-hour. The ones that are actually competing to get on the air tend to share the mothership’s interest in Dadaist parody of network TV: See the crime and hear the rhyme on “DPI: Def Poetry Investigations”; feel medical dramas get the Airplane! treatment, zero-budget-style, on “Country General.” Neither is without its small charms … and yet the site’s most-viewed user video is, at this writing, something called “Magic Man 4½,” in which a kid wearing a bobby hat just horses around in a high-school gym. The clip would make for unwatchable television, but on that Web site at this moment, it’s perfectly acceptable, which might as well be perfection itself.