Sit Down, Shut Up -- TV Review

The problem with Fox's "Sit Down, Shut Up" isn't that it tries to be a meta-comedy that pokes fun at other animated series, riffing on everything from characters' desire to have catchphrases to having them joke about having their dialogue bleeped or coming off as "hard to market." No, the problem is that the show just isn't funny. It's one thing to make sly nods in the viewer's direction; it's another entirely to stock a series with characters named Miracle Grohe and Sue Sezno and expect people not to wince every time those heavy-handed puns slam home.

Writer and executive producer Mitchell Hurwitz is in the unenviable position of trying to follow his dazzling success with "Arrested Development," one of the best TV comedies in history. But that show had the benefit of stronger writing, editing and onscreen chemistry among the leads, and though it's possible to tighten punch lines or transitions over time, the characters on "Sit Down" will never be able to relate to anything other than as caricatures -- crude placeholders for actual comedians. Mixing animated protagonists with live-action backdrops, the series feels loose and undefined, like a moderately amusing short that inexplicably has been turned into a show.

"Sit Down" -- based on a short-lived (and fully live-action) Australian sitcom from 2000 -- revolves around the faculty and staff of Knob Haven High School, most of whom blandly dislike their students and spend their days caught up in their own problems: The coach has a crush on the science teacher, the drama teacher is bisexual, the German teacher is homeless and hooked on porn, etc. You know, the usual. Jason Bateman voices the coach, Larry Littlejunk, whose name is funny once if you're 17, funny twice if you're high and lamented by anyone wanting to see real comedy.

The entire series is that overt, probably stemming from the fact that Hurwitz's fellow exec producers are Eric and Kim Tannenbaum, who also oversee CBS' "Two and a Half Men" and who, despite probably being very nice people, eventually will have to answer to God for inflicting that on the world. Every joke is telegraphed a mile off or just plain flat, especially the attempts to break the fourth wall. For instance, Larry reminisces about a time Miracle (Kristin Chenoweth) went topless, and he repeatedly asks for a flashback; and the drama teacher, Andrew LeGustambos (Nick Kroll), follows a sexual joke with the deadpan line, "I'm not gonna test well." It's painful to watch how hard the show tries to be funny, especially considering how hilarious and brilliant Hurwitz has proved he can be.

Among major cast members, only Will Forte manages to land a couple of actual laughs, despite being saddled with a character named Stuart Prozackian whose rank is "Ass. Principal." (Get it?!) His delivery breaks through the dully drawn scenes and uninvolving characters, if only for a moment, but highlights how much better the series' scripts will have to be without the actors' in-person chemistry to help scenes coast along. Thinking back to how good Hurwitz has been, I found myself suffering through "Sit Down, Shut Up" and repeating one of its meta-jokes like a mantra: This better be another misleading dream sequence.

Airdate: 8:30-9 p.m. Sunday, April 19 (Fox)
Production: Sony Pictures Television, 20th Century Fox Television, Tantamount Studios, Granada International Media
Cast: Jason Bateman, Kristin Chenoweth, Will Arnett, Henry Winkler, Cheri Oteri, Kenan Thompson, Will Forte, Nick Kroll, Tom Kenny
Executive producers: Mitchell Hurwitz, Eric Tannenbaum, Kim Tannenbaum, Josh Weinstein
Co-executive producers: Jim Vallely, Alex Herschlag
Writer: Mitchell Hurwitz
Based on the Australian series by: Brendan Reed, Tim McLoughlin
Producers: J. Michael Mendel, Claudia Katz
Director: Dwayne Carey-Hill
Music: David Schwartz
Editors: Lee Harting, Damon P. Yoches
Casting: Ruth Lambert, Robert McGee
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