TV review: "Ugly Americans"

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Remember "Drawn Together," Comedy Central's animated reality show that limped through two forgettable seasons? More than just a cash-in on the reality TV craze, it was the network's interesting attempt to assimilate a bit of Adult Swim's left-field weirdness into a familiar framework.

New series "Ugly Americans" works in a similar way - except it doesn't suck.

Everyman protagonist Mark Lilly is a social worker at the Department of Integration, a perilous position in an otherworldly New York filled with creatures desperate to fit in. Among some residual humans, we're talking yetis, land-whales, chicken people, robots, aliens, warlocks and an assortment of other fantastical beings.

At work, Lilly sits beside Leonard Powers, a drunk wizard who often wands case files into shots. At home, he rooms with the hilariously deadpan Randall Skeffington, a lusty sloth who made himself a zombie to impress a chick. Lilly's girlfriend is an actual demon.

Part of the show plays on the fear that America will eventually become a subhuman cesspool polluted by booze, consumer culture, me-first mentality and poor education. Everything else relies on throwing together a bunch of oddballs and letting them run wild.

In the first two episodes, Lilly counsels two werewolves, gets shot in the head, comes back to life and tries to find a Wendy's with double-assed toilets for a hydra-like client. How can you not root for a dude who fears being both eaten and fired every day?

"If you like it normal, why bother coming to New York?" Lilly explains in one of his calm, final-thought narrations. He's the stable center in an ether of oddity - a humble, steadfast Malcolm in the middle of hell.

Like most original Comedy Central programs - "South Park" and "The Colbert Report," to name a few - this one starts with a conservative, recognizable TV format. On the surface, Lilly is just a single thirtysomething trying to make it in the big city, no different than Caroline Duffy or Carrie Bradshaw.

The genius of "Ugly Americans" is that it works so well with something we've watched a thousand times before. It's able to send up sitcom cliches while reveling in grotesque, off-the-wall hilarity at the same time.

"Ugly Americans"

10:30 p.m. Wednesdays on Comedy Central

Grade: B+