Seriously Funny Kids

Years ago, as I was kicking back, watching Heidi Klum handing out orders to her charges on Project Runway, I suddenly sat bolt upright, convinced that I'd just her say, "Pack a blow job." Then I got a grip and realized that she must have really said something like, "That's a good job." Then, staring at Heidi's smirking face, some part of my brain went rogue and became convinced that she really had said "Pack a blow job," secure in the knowledge that if anybody called her on it, she could just say, "What? Why would I say that? You must remember that I'm not from these parts, and you know I have ze accent."  Following in the footsteps of Bill Cosby and Art Linkletter, the world's skinniest mother of four hasn't entirely discarded the perverse, mean-girl streak that makes her the perfect dominatrix mother hen to Runway's nest of fledging design stars. 

On their respective editions of Kids Say the Darndest Things, both Linkletter and Cos deployed well-timed bursts of infectious laughter to show just how amused they were by the little nippers they were interviewing. That path isn't really open to Heidi, because her laugh, which goes heh-heh-heh-heh, sounds as if should be accompanied by a vow that she will have those ruby slippers. In lieu of comic timing, she puts her stamp on the format with the frequency of her wardrobe changes, some of which are fairly distracting. For her up close and personal with one kid, she slipped into a pair of leopard print fuck-me shoes and pinned on a brooch the size of a bear claw. She also does a lot of eye-popping and mugging to the camera, sometimes in response to things (such as the kid telling her, in response to her asking if he has a girlfriend, that he doesn't but his dad does) that aren't even theoretically funny. When her new friend told her that his dad encourages people to "chillax", it sounded as if he might be trying to give her a gentle hint. 

Seriously Funny Kids works best when it keeps things basic and simple, delivering on its uncomplicated, unambitious promise to show cute kids saying something that the indulgent viewer might just greet with an audible chuckle. It's hard to go wrong with enthusiastic young'uns giving it their best attempt to summarize "The Three Little Pigs" or screwing up a knock knock joke. But the full-dress sketches—most of them "hidden camera' set-ups, including one in which Heidi, ever the good sport, allows her face to be decorated with a big prosthetic booger—aren't much fun and go on forever. One kid named Bradley, who is left alone to man Heidi's desk and has to juggle several ringing telephones, comes through as quite the little trouper, but one of the boys, who's trapped in an episode of a German-language cooking show, looks as if he's far less likely to say something funny than to wet himself and pass out on camera. 

The show is too busy—and too insistent on its own adorability—by half. But much of its real problem is that it doesn't capture the feeling of, what's the word, innocence that's central to the concept. It's not just because Heidi is constantly flirting with the little boys, presumably on the assumption that it's a howl to see pre-pubescent tots trying to figure out just what to make of a supermodel who seems to want to know if they're seeing anybody. (One kid, who turns the tables on Heidi by asking if she has a boyfriend, is quick to agree that "Seal" is a pretty cool name.) It's that so many of the kids, instead of seeming like exemplars of unself-conscious, uncorrupted freshness, come across as hardened veterans of the aspiring-child-star audition circuit. A 4-year-old named Scarlett lolls in her chair, in a set decorated with what appear to be big blow-ups of her head shots; like Norma Desmond  in Sunset Boulevard, she's ready for her close-up. Her languid self-confidence is actually pretty funny, but when she identifies Thomas Edison and Benjamin Franklin as players in the movie industry, she's not so much a kid making a funny as a pro used to connecting everything to her own limited frame of reference. 

With the interviews and junior Punk'd skits and home videos from regular folks, some of whom should be expecting a friendly drop-in visit from Child Services, there's still room at the end of the premiere episode for outtakes from Heidi's big-booger sketch. But including outtakes in a show like this is kind of redundant. 

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