NTSF:SD:SUV stands for “National Terrorist Strike Force: San Diego: Sports Utility Vehicle.” The silly name gives away the silly premise: a gloriously bizarre spoof of 24, NCIS, CSI: Miami and countless other gravelly-voiced action shows.
Adult Swim has essentially made parody, a genre so thoroughly soiled by the Epic Movie guys, respectable again. Children’s Hospital, a Grey’s Anatomy spoof, has achieved an almost sublime level of ambition, dashing off full-commitment genre homages to everything from Our Town to Do the Right Thing. Eagleheart, a Walker Texas Ranger spoof, perfectly balances its cheesy gravitas with just the right dollop of explosive absurdism.
NTSF, the newest 15-minute spoof, promises mushroom clouds but mainly delivers fizzles. The first problem comes from its choice of lead. Series creator Paul Scheer plays Jack Bauer/Horatio Caine substitute Trent Hauser. His physicality — skinny, gap-toothed, entirely unintimidating — is all wrong for this type of show. When Hauser pulls off his glasses to deliver a grisly one-liner, he needs the gritty, badass manner to elevate intentionally corny dialogue. It’s how soap actor star Leslie Nielsen rocked the Airplane and Naked Gun movies. Grimly serious is the best way to sell absurd, but Scheer’s goofy looks undercut it.
J.K. Simmons’ perfectly played cameo role in the pilot, as a corrupt FDA agent (responding to a “what do you know about…?” question with, “Zero. Zilch. And nada. And zilch just left town”) only highlights Scheer’s miscasting.
The greater problem, however, comes from the deluge of wacky characters on the fringe. Like the Colbert Report, NTSF began as a series of parody commercials. One commercial, introducing the team, not only gave us the typical gun-toting badasses, but a mathematician, ghost whisperer, sentient robot, kindergarten teacher, personal chef, Tom Cruise impersonator, bikini-model assassin and a “pre-cog” from Minority Report.
The far-ranging zaniness of it all underscores the show’s flaws: The best Children’s Hospital and Eagleheart episodes zero in on a few comedic concepts and then ricochet one-liners and sight gags off of them. But NTSF is perpetually distracted, perpetually heading in contradictory directions. The weaknesses of a sketch show weigh down this spoof.
In other words, this parody of single-minded cop shows — puts on sunglasses, stares into the distance — could stand to be a little more singleminded.
Sure, we’re biased in favor of TV shows about journalism. Yet BBC America insists on delaying its flagship programs by three weeks after they’ve aired in Britain. In the 1950s, when Bittorrent was just a fanciful dream, that made more sense. (BBC America, Thursdays, 10 pm)
Outrageous Kids Parties
Half the point of reality TV is judging other people. Gawk at the horrible visage of a crazed mother going to monstrous lengths to give her precious little son an overblown spectacle of might and magic when all he really wants, ultimately, is some Funfetti cake and LEGOs. (TLC, Thursdays, 10 pm)
Take the Money and Run
Take the Money and Run encourages an approximate simulation of criminal activity. Three teams compete. One hides a briefcase of $100,000; another tracks their cell-phone records, receipts and a GPS; and another interrogates the first group. But with no threat of punishment or torture, where’s the fun in that? (ABC, Tuesdays, 9 pm)