We’re overflowing from so much comedy on our electronic screens, there’s even a sketch TV boom exploding from within the current comedy boom.
While Saturday Night Live celebrates its 40th season this year, Comedy Central is bringing the buzz and the heat with Key & Peele, Inside Amy Schumer, Kroll Show, Drunk History (which presents period-piece sketches based on drunken improv) and even sketches within the framework of stand-up showcases such as Adam Devine’s House Party. IFC has critical and cult faves such as Portlandia, The Birthday Boys, and sketch comedy masquerading as talk show with Comedy Bang! Bang! And Adult Swim has Tim and Eric doing their best Tim and Eric, this time with Bedtime Stories, and Eric Andre breaks his own boundaries and yours with his anti-talk show sketch series.
On truTV, the Tenderloins cause havoc as sketch comedy pranksters in Impractical Jokers. And now, the cable channel formerly known for court programming has sketch comedy proper with Friends of the People, which premieres tonight.
Do we really need another sketch comedy series in 2014?
FotP arrives on the scene with a throwback play on Michael Jackson’s video for “Beat It.”
Once these kids do, in fact, beat it, we find out they’re young, fresh-faced and just out to have fun. If anyone is at the core of FotP, it’s Jermaine Fowler, who helped assemble a crew that includes his fellow failed-to-relaunch In Living Color rebooters Jennifer Bartels and Lil Rel, his webseries buddies Kevin Barnett and Josh Rabinowitz, and stand-up power twins Kenny and Keith Lucas, The Lucas Brothers. Fowler stars as “Urkel” in a sketch from the first season, and in tonight’s debut, shows off a double-impersonation as Tracy Morgan Freeman.
Whatever they learned from a scrapped special at FOX and a passed pilot for Legion of Goons at Comedy Central, they proved they could bounce back and still put smiles on people’s faces. Sketches are buttressed and bracketed by quick field pieces on the street and in New York City parks and squares.
Instead of pranking pedestrians, this group’s tricks include Rabinowitz asking someone to take the group’s #stillphoto, or holding a sign that reads “The End is Coming” and clarifying his stance, or Lil Rel asking a woman if a camera crew is following him. It’s all harmless fun. Perhaps this explains why they landed on the name Friends of the People to define themselves.
The Urkel sketch and a cocaine deal-turned-debate in the style of Seinfeld suggest how youthful their nostalgia is, too. And in this background clip, the FotP describe how their parodies are homages. Also friendly. Which will only add fuel to the fodder of those who argue that the Millennial generation has swapped Generation X’s irony and satire for fun, fun, FUN-loving admiration for the subjects in their sketches. I love the ’90s, indeed!
The showpiece in their premiere episode takes the conceit of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and applies it to Morgan Freeman as a doctor who drinks experimental fluid with DNA from Tracy Morgan, with predictably disastrously hilarious results, as played by Fowler.
But the first breakout sketch online from FotP comes courtesy of Barnett playing NBA player Darryl Powell, calling a press conference to declare himself the first monogamous player in the league. It’s earned more than a million views on YouTube already, thanks both to how solidly it hits its social and pop culture marks, as well as how layered its jokes are. One sample graphic reads: “Powell leads the league in scoring and not scoring.”
The Lucas Brothers star and square off in their own sketch, PTI-style, with “Squabblin’ and Quarrelin’,” although given their laid-back attitudes, don’t expect too much brawlin’.
Nicole Byer and Ron Funches also guest in the debut episode. Byer reacts to and heightens the weird thing in the scene when two couples play Two Truths and a Lie; Funches voices the long-lost hair of Steve Harvey in the episode’s most absurd yet still playful bit.
Is it groundbreaking? No.
Is it thought-provoking? No.
Is it funny? Yes. Quite funny.
In this case, one of out three still counts as a success.
Hear here the cast, showrunner Neil Punsalan and director Bobcat Goldthwait describe the fun of the show.
You also can watch the premiere episode here: