Wednesday, September 9, 2009

All 'Things' considered

Posted on Wed, Sep 9, 2009 at 4:00 AM

click to enlarge Demetri Martin hosts Important Things like a kindergarten teacher might.
  • Demetri Martin hosts Important Things like a kindergarten teacher might.
Important Things With Demetri Martin: Season 1
Release Date: 2009-09-09
Rated: NONE
Genre: Film

Important Things With Demetri Martin is essentially Blue’s Clues for stoned grown-ups. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Fortunately, the multitalented Martin is confident and capable enough to lead the audience through the show’s many, many quirks, beginning with the title sequence, which features helpfully labeled shots of Martin doing stupid shit — putting a cat in a tree (one label reads: “freedom”), fastening a lifejacket around a cinderblock and throwing it into the ocean (one label reads: “buoyancy”). Kind of makes it look like a one-joke Mr. Wizard parody, but Important Things only operates like a children’s show in its structure and transitions. Each show comprises sketches (as in skits), sketches (as in drawings), songs, monologues, charts, etc. at least loosely related to that episode’s “important thing” — “Power,” “Coolness,” “Chairs,” etc. — linked together Sesame Street style (including a shout out to the show’s fictional sponsors).

Martin manages to avoid redundancy by stretching the themes considerably (the “Timing” episode, for example, includes a skit about a time-traveling gigolo and a one-man-band act accompanied by sketches drawn on a giant tablet). Comedians Jon Glaser, John Oliver, and David Cross make appearances, but Martin spends most of the show’s running time onstage by himself. Occasionally — the episode on “Chairs” is a good example — the monologue material wears thin, but Martin’s laid-back, just-goofing-off demeanor usually saves him from bombing. Plus this ambidextrous, anagram-loving law-school dropout’s perspective is strange enough that his jokes are usually interesting or amusing when they aren’t laugh-out-loud funny.

The song “Me vs. You,” for example, is just a collection of cut-downs, but Martin’s strange sense of metaphor keeps it from becoming Yo Mama: “Me, a hillbilly/ You, my teeth,” he boasts, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. “Me, a feather/ You, a ticklish man sitting on a rocking chair at the edge of a cliff.”

About 90 percent of Martin’s sense of humor is this juvenile, pre-sexual, and grandma safe, but his rare dark moments (check out the unaired skit about the suicide-cult leader who schedules a date on Kool-Aid day) are funnier for it. Murder and bondage jokes aside, the show’s gags generally seem to come from a happier place than most good comedy, and Important Things deserves some real recognition for getting genuine laughs without constantly reverting to cynicism. That said, the show’s most bitterly satirical sketch — a commercial for an exterminator company that kills rats by placing robotic rodent replicas of Jesus and Mohammed in your home to convert the rats to opposing religions and “ignite a rodent holy war in your walls” — is also probably its funniest, but Martin’s generally optimistic outlook keeps Important Things important.

Other than the previously mentioned cult-leader sketch, most of the “bonus features” (here meaning outtakes and deleted sketches) on this single-disc, seven-episode collection, are disposable filler, but the show’s a bargain at the $12.99 currently quoted on Amazon. Buy it, and more importantly, watch season two when it airs — Comedy Central has a history of canceling shows like this before they have the chance to connect with an audience.

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