Comedy Central continues its successful foray into all things pseudo-real (pseudo newscast “The Daily Show,” pseudo pundit program “The Colbert Report”) with a pseudo judge show starring apoplectic curmudgeon Lewis Black.
Like Colbert before him, Black first made a name for himself on “The Daily Show,” where he served as the anti-Andy Rooney. Black’s road-rage style of comedy made him well-suited to the weekly rant segment “Back in Black.” Now he gets his own spin-off, allowing him to explode on assorted themes that stick in his considerably large craw.
Oddly enough, Black isn’t really the center of attention on “The Root of All Evil.” Presiding over the fake courtroom like an angry Judge Wapner, Black mostly provides a stage for assorted guest comedians to try out their material. The premise of “The Root of All Evil” is simple: Each week, two topics are chosen and two professional comedians argue over which is the more evil. Oprah Winfrey or the Catholic Church? Donald Trump or Viagra? Black steps off the bench briefly to cross-examine the comedians in a segment that feels a tad rehearsed but hints at some fine off-the-cuff improv in the future. In the end, our host renders his decision, bringing the hammer down on whomever or whatever angers him most.
Basically, “The Root of All Evil” is an opportunity to see comedians (Greg Giraldo, Patton Oswalt, Paul F. Tompkins and others) riff for 10 straight minutes on a single topic. How often are they afforded that luxury? Ten minutes may sound like a lot--but, really, how can you not come up with 10 minutes’ worth of material insulting Donald Trump? Although the show mostly exists to slam celebrities and pop culture icons, it doesn’t shy away from controversy. After all, this is a show that has argued why the Catholic Church is the root of all evil. (Giraldo cited the Inquisition and the institutional sexism, then got right to the point: “Did I mention the boy #$*@ing?”) Occasionally, of course, it hits on a good point. (Like Oprah’s bestowing lavish gifts on poor people who must then come up with the exorbitant tax money to pay for them. “These people aren’t shy about buying a car,” points out Oprah’s prosecutor. “They’re broke!”)
Obviously, Black’s judgments are non-binding and little of this dog-and-pony show is meant to be taken seriously. As a clever, high-volume variation on the pop culture commentary rampant in such shows as “Best Week Ever,” “The Root of All Evil” scores points for its pointed attacks on pop culture’s stupidest contributors. Here’s hoping a regular paying gig doesn’t blunt Black’s violent disappointment in us all.