Important Things With Demetri Martin: "Timing"

Important Things With Demetri Martin: "Timing"

If you're a humongous Demetri Martin fan already—if you can't get enough of the awkward flip charts, the forced inflection, the smirkiness—then you'll probably find his new half-hour comedy series, Important Things, a delightful exercise. (Conversely, if you think Martin's a smug unfunny asshole, you're probably not watching at all; on that note, why are you here? Go forth, and hate!) However, if you're like me, and you haven't quite made up your mind about this guy—but remain optimistic for this new show—then odds are you'll be disappointed.

I've been a cautious fan of Martin for a while now. Some of his Daily Show segments, like this SAT one, really come together for me; some just seem to miss their mark. There are moments of his "If I" stand-up that reek of casual brilliance ("At any moment, I am four minutes from a poncho"), and there are others that drag stupendously. While I was hoping Important Things would be a good representation of the Martin's strengths, the show is more of a Franken-special combining most of his comic weaknesses.

Each episode tackles a different big-picture topic through a combination of stand-up bits, short video sketches and satirical guitar dittys. Week one covers "timing" and starts with a few jokes about, well, a lot of different things—goths in gothic times, having amnesia on Halloween, meeting babies. I guess it's "timing" in the loosest sense of the word possible.

But the nature of the jokes (or, for that matter, their randomness) isn't really the problem. The bits are cobbled together, so most end with an abrupt cut to the set-up for the next one; I'm sure Martin filmed an extended set, and the powers-that-be took the best jokes and removed the weaker ones. But the beauty of stand-up is in the rhythm and flow of a great set—even if part of the five-minute package fails, it's still a natural progression from one joke to the next, thus completing the illusion that it's just a dude up there, talking through some stuff. Given the show's choice to include a mish-mosh of material—rather than a tight, five minutes, honed and rehearsed—each joke is forced to stand on its own; and let's be honest, Martin's not the kind of comic who writes T-shirt–begging one liners. So rather than basking in the weirdness that is Demetri Martin's sense of humor, I find myself recognizing that, yes, a joke was just told… and moving on.

As for the sketches—well, they're really premisey, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. In the first one, Martin plays a film actor shooting a scene in which he's supposed to get pissed at his cheating girlfriend. But, see, his acting is lame, and he only gets angry once the camera is done shooting. He does a failed take; he smashes a vase in frustration. This happens five or six times, over and over, but Martin's anger escalates each take, to the point where he winds up destroying the only tape that captured the action they needed. Really, really premisey, but the scene builds to a satisfying conclusion. Most—like the "guy who shows up to a rave early" and the "engagement appreciation ring" mock commercial(s)—fail to launch after the initial comic conceit, and go on way too long. And that's saying something, considering the sketches top off after a few minutes.

Bottom line is, this isn't the best vehicle to show off the good sides of Demetri Martin's comedy. Sure, the unfinished, random charm behind the sketches and jokes is immediately apparent, but the whole show suffers from a lack of natural flow—too labored in the sketches' case; too disjointed when talking about the stand-up. Come to think of it, Important Things needs, most of all, some pause. Each segment, joke, line, whatever, is so close on the heels of what happened before. By the time I got to the closing "Timing Demonstrations" song—a bunch of humorous, off-center flip chart gags (one line labeled as "unfinished drawing of a porcupine")—I was ready for something else.

Grade: C-

Stray observation:

- Jon Benjamin: That man is in everything.