Hey, do you remember The Sarah Silverman Program? No? Neither does Comedy Central, apparently. Because its second season—the one before this, which aired in two chunks—ended on Dec. 11, 2008, according to TV.com. Fourteen months ago! I mean, that was back when Jean Charest had just been elected to a third mandate to lead the Liberal Party in Quebec! Ages ago, right?
Well, Comedy Central eventually remembered its series starring comedian Sarah Silverman, who returned to her usual shenanigans tonight with the debut of season three, “The Proof Is In The Penis.” The show was conscious of the lag: The standard Steve-Brian B-plot had a callback to an earlier episode. What, you don’t remember “Ah Men” from Season Two, where Brian and Steve are hanging out with God, who accidentally launches their remote through the wall and kills their neighbor with it? No? That’s probably because it aired on October 31, 2007. So yeah, we needed a flashback of that so we’d understand why Steve and Brian’s neighbor was haunting them.
None of this is the fault of Silverman or the show’s producers, Rob Schrab and Dan Harmon (who has his hands full with NBC’s Community these days). The writers’ strike is mostly to blame for the two-part second season. But ending a long layoff with a callback to a 2-year-old episode was risky—I only had a vague memory of it.
Of course, it wasn’t the central plot: That concerned the ongoing tension between Laura and Sarah about Sarah’s arrested development. Sarah needs more money—this time to buy a tie rack, because she’s thinking of wearing ties for some kind of Annie Hall look—but Laura forces her to stay on a budget.
Turns out Sarah is hemorrhaging money on frivolities: organic cotton-candy membership, tambourine shoes, live-sized blow-up giant, Keller tea part set, walking stick, sitting stick, couch-chair, jet pack (blue), gigantic paper clips, invisible glitter, coconut monkey sculpture, and more. Tied down to a budget, the hirsute Sarah no longer has money to wax her upper lip, so she’s sporting a full-on ’stache after just a couple of days.
And here’s where the episode goes off the rails. Laura thinks she can trick Sarah into getting a job to support herself by inventing a story about Sarah being born a hermaphrodite. Because, you see, maybe Sarah will start acting like a man and get a job, if, you know, she thinks she’s a man…? Or something?
Which leads to a funny bit where Sarah asks graphic, confusing questions about the mechanics of her anatomy, but really, this whole thing is an excuse for her to butch out, which she did to hilarious effect in the Season One episode “Muffin Man” (way back on March 1, 2007). She moves to a tent in the forest, throws knives and shoots a shotgun for fun, and proves to be manlier than Steve or Brian.
Laura eventually has to come clean (“I just got that penis from the hermaphrodite trashcan at the hospital”), and the tension is of course resolved via song. That segment had some funny randomness—Steve dressed in a tutu, Jay banging some kind of gong—but it felt de rigueur. At this point, a song with racy lyrics (this one about the baby penis in your mind) is practically expected. That is, if you can remember.
That’s the thing: After such a long time off, the show needed to return with a really strong episode to remind viewers of how funny it can be. Instead, this just felt like a lot of familiar jokes. Silverman has long faced criticism that her act favors shock over substance, and “The Proof Is In The Penis” seemed like one long dick joke. It’ll take more than that to recapture viewers who have moved on.
• If nothing else, director Rob Schrab did a nice job with the special effects in this episode, which were considerable for a silly show like the SSP. The horror-movie-like opening was a nice touch, too.
• Are you on The Twitter? These guys are all pretty funny on it: @SarahKSilverman, @LauraJSilverman, @thebrianposehn, @steveagee, @JayJohnston. Watching Steve Agee and @toddbarry talk shit to each other over Twitter is pretty funny. (Why yes, I do have a life. Why do you ask?)
• If this first episode is any indication of the rest of the season, we probably need to refresh our memory of previous episodes. And, hey, what a coincidence: Season Two Volume Two comes out DVD next week!