The Tease: 'The Sarah Silverman Program'

Thesarahsilvermanprogram3_240So much for putting your best foot forward. Comedy Central is airing the second episode of The Sarah Silverman Program -- titled "Officer Jay" -- as the show's premiere on Thursday (Feb. 1) night. Only the network's programmers know for sure why, because the episode originally shot as the pilot, "Batteries," is vastly funnier and a much better introduction to Silverman's world for neophytes.

Are there still Sarah Silverman neophytes? I guess there probably are people who have missed the onslaught of media attention given to Silverman in recent years, the countless articles written with the exact same hook -- How does this Jewish girl from New Hampshire get away with saying all of these dirty and politically incorrect things?

And nearly every story comes to the same conclusion -- If Sarah Silverman weren't so darned hot, and she didn't feign innocence so perfectly, she wouldn't get away with it. Reporters like having stories that write themselves and Silverman's story comes in a nicely decorated package.

I'd be sick of the Sarah Silverman phenomenon except for a tiny problem -- she keeps making me laugh. I'm not convinced her stuff is quite as smart as some of her biggest advocates would have you believe, but she takes a baseball bat to the piñata that holds many of our underlying prejudices regarding race, religion and gender with an off-handed, sing-song delivery that leaves punchlines to detonate sometimes minutes after she drops them.

As familiar as Silverman's story may be, her material has become nearly as familiar. Just as her semi-concert film Jesus Is Magic was composed largely of jokes that most fans had heard before, Silverman's new Comedy Central offering occasionally feels cobbled together from her routines, which shouldn't be taken as a criticism, necessarily. It's not like Tim Allen, Roseanne, Jerry Seinfeld, Garry Shandling, Brett Butler and Ray Romano haven't stolen from themselves to achieve sitcom success. But don't expect Silverman to break any new ground here.

The conceit of The Sarah Silverman Program is that this is Silverman's life, or at least a deceptively common version of it, where she mostly hangs out with her sister (real-life sister Laura Silverman) and her gay neighbors (Brian Posehn and Steve Agee). Her adventures are minor -- a quest to get batteries to change the channel of her TV from a heart-tugging telethon, for example -- but they're spiced up with musical numbers, animated flourishes and unexpected touches like Silverman's interactions with God (a diabolically funny subplot in the "Batteries" episode).

The musical numbers owe more than a little to the similarly surreal moments in Jesus Is Magic, songs that more than a few critics complained detracted from the stand-up. Personally, I think they're better integrated into the funhouse prism of Silverman's sitcom world.

"Officer Jay" is the more conventional of the two episodes sent to critics, as Sarah trips on cold medicine and tries to drive a wedge between her sister and her police officer boyfriend. It's likeable enough and good for a few chuckles, but "Batteries," with guest star Masi Oka (shot pre-Heroes, presumably) and the aforementioned divine cameo is the real winner.