Empty11-11:30 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 20
To a growing number of viewers, Frank Caliendo is no longer "Frank who?" An alumnus of "Mad TV," rubber-faced, good-natured Caliendo has performed comic impersonations on most of the big late-night talk shows, especially "Late Show With David Letterman."
Playing to his strong suit, Caliendo's new weekly late-night series is a half-hour collection of taped pieces, including his signature impressions of John Madden, George W. Bush, Robin Williams and Charles Barkley. Sometimes on his own, sometimes seated beside a "co-host" drafted from the studio audience, Caliendo introduces each sketch with just a line or two of setup, as if he hosting "America's Funniest Home Videos" or "Candid Camera."
It's a fast-paced and formidable display of talent, made even more enjoyable by sharp comic writing and attention to detail. Even an impression of President Bill Clinton, with its shopworn themes of lechery and salacious conduct, seems somehow fresh and funny when mouthed by Caliendo.
A lot of it has to do with Caliendo's innate likability. He's not a smart aleck, and he stays away from anything controversial or divisive. "I feel like a little kid who just got a television show for Christmas," he says. Now that it's unwrapped, Caliendo intends to take good care of it and play nice with it.
As often as not, the Chicago native plays more than one character in the same sketch. In "Seinfeld 2027," a reunion of the characters 20 years from now, Caliendo plays all four regulars as well as Newman (though he is most convincing as Jason Alexander's George Costanza).
Of all his impressions, Caliendo is perhaps most famous for his take on Madden, which reportedly irks the football analyst. In the premiere, he does it three times as brief interstitials, depicting the former coach stuffing a chicken in a duck in a turkey. Ironically, these are the weakest bits of the episode.
Far more creative is the bit in which Caliendo imitates the voice of movie-trailer announcers. Also clever is a sketch in which he mocks Vice President Dick Cheney giving marital advice to Jenna Bush just before her wedding, though it goes on a little too long.
It looks like Caliendo won't need to lean on any one character too often. The press kit lists about two dozen stars and celebrities in his repertoire, and that is far from complete. In the second episode, he skewers Donald Trump and shows how guys who can talk like Sean Connery can pretty much have their way with women. As if.
This could be the showcase that catapults Caliendo into the top tier of impressionists.