TV

TV REVIEW: What's so funny 'bout peace, love and liberals?

I'm a left-leaning, commie-lovin' pinko. That's the conclusion some of you will immediately rush to when I tell you that "The ½ Hour News Hour," Fox News Channel's attempt at political satire, is an elephant-size bore.

Truth is, I like a good Howard Dean joke as much as the next dittohead. Too bad "Hour" doesn't have one.

The first episode, which premiered two weeks ago and is followed by a fresh edition tonight, opened in an Oval Office set with none other than the real Rush Limbaugh behind the desk. After a few minutes, he introduces the new vice president - a stiff Ann Coulter, who looks like she just walked into an ACLU pep rally. Surprisingly, Coulter gets off the only self-deprecating line of the evening when she tells viewers to stay tuned for the show or "we'll invade your country and convert everyone to Christianity."

At least I think she was self-deprecating. I had to wonder as the show unfolded with one anti-liberal jab after another - all laced with venom and vengeance, none with the slightest sign of a wink.

Among the jokes: Barack Obama's nickname in college was "Gassy." Hillary Clinton promises to fill her future cabinet with angry lesbians. Cindy Sheehan goes on a cross-country shooting spree. Harry Potter's next adventure has him coming out of the closet. Ed Begley Jr. can't get to the studio because his hybrid car breaks down.

Ed Begley Jr.? Really?

The "zingers" are read by the bland duo of Kurt Long and Jenn Robertson, who both have the good sense to use fake names on the air, performing flatly from a set that looks remarkably like the one built by their mortal enemy, "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart."

A couple of guests tried to enliven the atmosphere with mixed results. Longtime stand-up comedian Don Irrera played a T-shirt salesman who specializes in merchandise featuring the faces of famous dictators, leaving the stoic "journalists" to explain who each of them are and sucking any potential humor out of the skit with each history lesson. Why such a menial character would earn a seat next to news anchors to begin with is never really explained.

Jonathan Magnum appeared in a slightly better skit as a game-show host/climatologist who claims he can link global warming to any problem in the world. His unbridled enthusiasm almost sold the bit until it concluded with a tired punch line about Britney Spears' underwear or lack thereof.

These sophomoric efforts at least distract us from the show's primary theme, which is to strike back at Bush bashers and defend the values of the good ol' U.S. of A.

It should come as no surprise that the show is the brainchild of Joel Surnow, the creator of "24," which shares an us-against-the-world attitude. At least "24" does it with clever twists and the brilliant comedy stylings of star Keifer Sutherland, who makes me snicker every time he screams his dialogue.

I can understand where Surnow is coming from, especially after watching Stephen Colbert's bombastic impression of Bill O'Reilly score big in Hollywood and Washington, and Jon Stewart's Democratic colors getting brighter with each Emmy-winning season.

And there's certainly an appetite for some conservative-friendly humor - nearly 1.5 million viewers tuned in for the first episode.

But if Fox News wants to take liberals down a few pegs, they should cancel "Hour" immediately and give more time to Geraldo Rivera.

Now that's comedy.

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