"Hi, I'm Sarah Silverman, and I'm just like you."
So begins the opening to The Sarah Silverman Program, Comedy Central's new six-installment series, which premieres Feb. 1 at 10:30 p.m. ET. And Silverman's TV character is just like you—that is, if you are ill-mannered, narcissistic, ignorant and entirely un-self aware. Oh, and funny. Let's not forget funny.
Silverman, who stars in a show that is a mix of sitcom, musical and fantasy, brings the same persona to this small-screen venture that she did to the 2005 theatrical release Jesus Is Magic: an adorably saucer-eyed ditz who skewers every group imaginable, from blacks and gays to the mentally challenged and cancer-afflicted children. That's right, even dying kiddies aren't spared in a show that, despite being excessively silly and crammed with several groan-out-loud lines, has enough moments of absurd hilarity to be oddly entertaining.
Along with Silverman (who has appeared in Comedy shows including Crank Yankers), Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab helped create the series. Silverman, Schrab, Heidi Herzon (Jesus) and Dan Sterling (The Daily Show) executive-produce; Schrab also directs several episodes.
Silverman's character is a resident of the fictional Happy Village who appears to have no source of income other than money provided by her long-suffering younger sister, Laura (played by Silverman's real-life sister, Laura Silverman, who also appeared in Jesus). Besides Laura, Sarah's core social group consists of her geeky, "gigantic, orange and gay" neighbors Brian and Steve (Brian Posehn and Steve Agee, also from Jesus). She also has an arch nemesis in meathead policeman Officer Jay (Jay Johnston).
The show has a Seinfeld-ian quality in that it is largely about nothing. The characters eat brunch, play videogames and debate homosexuality versus bisexuality, all to give Sarah the excuse to spout yet another outrageously offensive or dimwitted line. And it's hard to resist a guffaw when, upon coming across a wheelchair marathon, she asks, "What's this? Some kind of anti-leg protest?" Or when she switches the channel on a show soliciting money for children with cancer, saying, "So long, leukemia kids! Don't spend all that money on drugs!"
The show is less successful when it veers into serious fantasy mode; a sexual interlude between Sarah and God (who happens to be black) tries too hard and falls flat. Sarah's musical numbers are also a bit tedious, but one ditty inspired by brunch-time flatulence seems destined for radio play, à la Adam Sandler's "The Chanukah Song."
Posehn gives an impressive performance as the nerdiest, most mentally tortured half of the gay couple. Laura Silverman serves as the straight man to Sarah's wacky character; in the two episodes available for review, she doesn't have much of a presence.
So far, no additional episodes of the series have been ordered, but Comedy Central just might have a success in Silverman. Like the wildly successful SouthPark, it revels in the politically incorrect, and Silverman has the same kind of quirky appeal as Amy Sedaris, whose Strangers With Candy was a hit on Comedy.
When Jesus was released, Silverman got a great deal of press attention for what some said was racist and offensive humor, much like the recent smash Borat. Also like Borat, the movie was generally critically acclaimed; its opening weekend reaped $125,000 on just eight screens. The film went on to earn more than $1.3 million–hardly Borat numbers, but a decent take for a movie in limited release that consists primarily of a standup act.
And just like Borat's Sacha Baron Cohen, Silverman is a Jewish comedian who relishes humor that some might see as anti-Semitic. In the introduction to one episode, she warns the audience, "This show contains full-frontal Jew-dity." It's a groaner, but her self-deprecating snort at the end of the line lets you know she is well aware of that.
And if audiences get the joke, Silverman could be gracing the small screen for some time.
By Rebecca Stropoli