Showtime (Fri., July 23, 10 p.m. ET)
The title is ironie, because if there’s one thing this documentary on comedy techniques is sadly lacking, it’s chuckles.
The first installment is composed of a mock-academic course on visual humor delivered by British comic Rowan Atkinson (Black Adder), who seems to be composed of vulcanized rubber. Atkinson’s antics are augmented by a series of sight-bite clips of such masters as Peter Sellers, John Cleese, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin. Mack Sennett and W.C. Fields.
The segment goes on far too long, but not nearly as long as a pompous interview with Jerry Lewis that turns up in the evening’s second half. During a strangely somber look at some famous comic teams, Lewis sprawls in the back of a limo blathering on about his relationship with Dean Martin in that misguidedly grave tone that marks most of Lewis’s reflections.
Here too the series reveals its British bias. It’s one thing to devote time to the Dudley Moore-Peter Cook duo. But you’re getting into some awfully obscure waters with Morecambe and Wise or Cannon and Ball. (The latter, as far as I can tell, tour with their maudlin act on some dingy fish-and-chips circuit.)
The two remaining episodes, which air on subsequent Fridays, focus on film comedies, sitcoms, stand-up and censorship. But this series really needs to lighten up, i.e., become a good deal more…Foxonian.