TV Review: ‘Important Things with Demetri Martin’

02.10.09 9 years ago

Martin Schoeller/Comedy Central

One of the things that the Comedy Central braintrust does best is picking the proper vehicles to showcase their stable of comics, particularly when they use “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” as a fertile training ground.

“The Colbert Report” is the obvious pinnacle of this development process, but Comedy Central also tried out a variety of platforms for Lewis Black before settling on the inconsistent, but sometimes brilliant “Root of All Evil.”

“Important Things with Demetri Martin,” premiering on Wednesday, Feb. 11 at 10:30 p.m. ET may not quite be in that “Colbert Report” class — What is? — but it’s tremendously funny addition to Comedy Central’s lineup and, if early episodes are any indication, it has ample room to grow.

[More after the bump…]

Jon Stewart serves as executive producer on “Important Things with Demetri Martin,” providing a boost to the young comic who got his start as a “Daily Show” correspondent.

As “Daily Show” viewers or fans of his stand-up know, Martin is perfect comic for the ADHD Generation. His humor is random, digressive and sometimes so smart that even the most appreciative of audiences can sit on punchlines for minutes before getting the joke and laughing, causing them to miss several more punchlines. He jumps from topic to topic, seemingly stream-of-consciousness rambles, mixing in props, visual aides and music.

“Important Things,” then, is an ideal format for Martin, because it manages to keep him slightly on-topic, while also giving him a vehicle to showcase his varied skill-set.

Every episode allegedly focuses on a single Important thing, which can be as literal as Chairs or as multifarious as Power or Timing (the topics of the two episodes sent to critics). It’s a little bit like the way “Sesame Street” might be brought to you by the Letter H and the Number 37, just to steer Gordon and the Muppets. The folks at the Children’s Television Workshop don’t want to restrict their lessons to “H” lessons and “37” lessons, but they know that with all of the possible knowledge they might want to impart, sometimes it helps to impose occasional restrictions.

Once the topic is in place, “Demetri Martin — Person” (as he’s identified at the start of each episode) uses it as launching pad — springboard? jumping-off-point? — that can be as specific or as vague as he chooses. That’s what “Timing” can refer to the physics of trying to throw a water balloon at a moving bike, proper (and realistic) usage of a time machine, how to take advantage of your love for Christmas cookies even when it’s seasonally inappropriate and when to give diamonds to your loved one. The subjects don’t keep Martin on a very close leash.

“Important Things” is Martin’s version of a variety show. He begins each episode with a little standup in front of a very small studio audience. He does filmed sketches, occasionally bringing in guests like Amanda Peet, animated sequences, commercial parodies and musical numbers. He plays himself, he plays characters and he appears to play at least three or four musical instruments with varying levels of proficiency. He hasn’t introduced interview guests into the equation, but I get the feeling he could if he wanted to.

Because of the nature of his topics, Martin could be mining new Important Things for a decade, because no topic is too big or small. You could imagine him handling episodes on Duct Tape or Religion with equal levels of commitment. 

He’s also just beginning to test the possibilities of the variety show format. There are recurring bits in the first two episodes, like “Two Guys in a Dungeon,” but there are four or five other segments that I wouldn’t mind seeing return. I would gladly watch more demonstrations of activities performed by a Yellow Belt and there’s no reason why The Revengenator, a superhero in the Power episode, couldn’t be repurposed.

Brainy, deadpan and likable, Martin is also largely apolitical, which should increase his accessibility even to audiences who may not be on the same end of the spectrum as Stewart or Colbert. He also mixes the slow-fuse gags — anything where you’re still finding new things to giggle about at the next commercial break — with broad, quick-detonation gags.

Networks have quit trying to make people laugh in the 10 p.m. hour (at least until NBC surrenders its schedule to Leno), so I think there’s an audience for Martin’s brand of humor at 10 p.m. on Comedy Central.

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