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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Michael & Michael Have Issues: "Greg The Intern"

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Michael & Michael Have Issues premieres tonight on Comedy Central, 10:30pm ET/9:30pm CT

When Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter joined David Wain for Stella in 2005, they were credited on IMDB as "Michael"—exaggerated versions of themselves, sure, though there was still some distance from the role. But much like The Daily Show correspondents, the last few years have found both Michaels cultivating the personas they adopt when appearing as "themselves": Black, as evidenced during his brief but highly entertaining stint as host of Reality Bites Back, is affably cocksure, ironically quipping, "Hello, I'm Michael Ian Black—very famous" before each show; Showalter is more of the brainy goof—he devotes an entire section of his stand-up to the cleanliness of his penis and gravediggers who use their cocks as shovels.

Those perceptions of Black and Showalter form the base of the promising Michael And Michael Has Issues; the show finds the two actors credited each as "himself", working together to put on a Mr. Show-like sketch series. The crux of the action, though, takes place behind-the-scenes—a show-within-a-show, as it were.

The episode starts at the beginning of a script meeting; Biederman the producer asks if the cast—Michael and Michael—is willing to chat with Greg the intern for an article he's writing for his high school newspaper. Showalter agrees immediately, but Black says no—then proceeds to tell Greg that both the Michaels are package deal. Showalter denies that fact; Black reasserts it. Okay. Moving on, time for a read thru, which finds Black setting up a punch line about virginity pledges in which Showalter says, "Why would anyone not wanna get laaaaaaaid!" Laughter, but Showalter has a problem with the line, and wants to change it to "I like Lemon Pledge on my table top." Black makes fun of Showalter for a while.

Most of these little arguments are fleeting; the one that carries through the remainder of the episode has to do with Greg—Showalter goes ahead and gives the interview, downplaying Black's role in the show. Not to be outdone, Black invites Greg to his house for dinner, in which he gives his own interview/side of the story. Showalter tries to call Greg, Black intercepts. The end result: the two Michaels meet outside Black's house, take off their shirts, and commence preparing to fight with air kicks and intimidating faces—while Showalter's girlfriend and Black's wife have a discussion about blouses.

There's nothing to really "get" here: These are two guys who will forever have a oneupsmanship thing going on. The beauty of Michael And Michael is in its simplicity, though it gives the show an added layer to deal with. It's about arguments, so naturally there will be arguments; but as soon as an argument starts on screen, viewers want so desperately to see it build—appealing to the inner schadenfreude within us all. Tonight's episode starts with a few off-handed remarks about not wanting to be interviewed by an intern, and ends with this ridiculous lawn fight. In short, it works, and the pay-off is silly and neat. The shorter bits, though, don't strike as hard; casual arguments like the ones at the episode's beginning strike me as more awkward than they should, largely because there really isn't any build, nor is there yet a layer of familiarity show on screen between the Michaels.

But this is just nitpicking what I believe is a really strong start to a series. Part of this show's challenge is coming up with new and interesting—and above all, funny—ways to have arguments; and both Black and Showalter are perfect for the task. They've worked closely together on so many projects, and as Stella made clear, they're both adept at writing realistic scenarios that pull humor from unexpected places. The more we watch this show, the more we'll get a sense of how the Michaels interact, and thus each joke will hit harder than the one before it. After all, this is a show that benefits from some build.

Grade: B+

Stray observations:

  • I'm looking forward to seeing how they'll be using Biederman. He could be the Michaels' less-enthusiastic Murray, so to speak—a natural foil.
  • Maybe it's all the The State I've been watching, but those two video sketches—the abstinence pledge and the phone number—felt a lot like anything the group ever did.
  • I'll be tracking the show ongoing this season; it's seven episodes long.