For a couple of decades now, Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter have been comedic collaborators in a variety of sketch comedy troupes (starting at NYU in 1988), TV shows (“The State,” “Stella”) and movies (Wet Hot American Summer, The Baxter). Obviously inseparable for extended periods, the Michaels have joined forces once again for Comedy Central’s self-referential new skitcom “Michael & Michael Have Issues.”
In it, the boys stretch their acting talents to the limit, playing Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter, a couple of comedians with their own sketch comedy show. Interspersed amid the show-within-a-show sketches we get a behind-the-scenes narrative in which Michael and Michael squabble over issues both big and small, business and personal. The premise sounds dangerously close to the one for NBC’s “30 Rock,” but that particular show dropped most of its on-air sketch comedy routines in favor of more traditional office-based humor after the pilot episode. “Michael & Michael,” on the other hand, revels in these asides, devoting about half of every episode to them.
The sketch segments are amusing enough—although past M&M collaborations have flourished under more, shall we say, surreal conditions. Straight monologues and punch lines aren’t the duo’s strongest suit. The loose “story” segments that surround each week’s show feel a bit more natural. The pilot episode, for example, finds the two frenemies battling over the attentions of a teenage intern writing a story for his high school newspaper. The “Seinfeld”-ian pettiness of these segments—
Longtime fans of Black and Showalter will wring the most humor out of the show’s ridiculous confrontations. The newly baptized may find the insecurity and jealousy on display here a bit off-putting. At times, it feels less like “Seinfeld” and more like “Curb Your Enthusiasm”—though it’s clear the stars aren’t taking any of this the slightest bit seriously. Mostly, it’s just Michael and Michael goofing on each other’s personalities and running amok in their showbiz playground. If you were fan enough to watch “Viva Variety,” you should be fan enough to follow this one.