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Steal This Sitcom

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A funny thing happened to my pick for best new fall show of 2006. It, uh, didn’t air in fall 2006. The suits at ABC decided to hold The Knights of Prosperity until January. The network said it held the show to give a promising series a launch time amid less new competition, but you could see how they might have thought that the show was, shall we say, a long shot. Knights (tonight at 9 p.m.) is not what you’d call a beautiful-people show. It opens with Eugene Gurkin (Donal Logue) waking up, rolling out of bed in his undershirt and boxers, zipping his pudgy body into a janitors’ uniform, and trudging off to work, where we see him plunging an overflowing toilet. But Gurkin has a dream: to open his own bar. ("I want to be the guy who puts the tangerine in the toilet," he vows, "not the guy who has to take it out.") And one day, turned down for a bank loan and watching Mick Jagger showing off his palatial apartment on a celebrity home-tour show, he comes up with a plan: to burgle the star’s home.

OK, it’s not a good plan, and the crew of working stiffs he assembles—using as their criminal lair a "Jewish-supply warehouse" chockablock with "I’m With Meshuggenah" t-shirts–are not good burglars. But Gurkin’s brimming confidence makes his criminal plan sympathetic. "Were you born with a silver spoon in your mouth?" he asks his recruits, in a speech befitting Bill Murray in Stripes. "Me either. I was born with a plastic spork in my ass!"

Created by two Late Show producers (Paul Shaffer wrote the hilarious Shaft-like theme song), the show is filled with Lettermanesque non sequiturs and ’70s pop-culture arcana–the pilot references Loni Anderson and Jeff Conaway from Grease–but it has heart too. Gurkin is appealing in the same way the bad singers on American idol are: he has little ability, little expertise (most of his ruses involve his putting on a very bad British accent) and most likely little chance, yet he believes in himself so strongly despite all evidence to the contrary that you pull for him when he prays, in all sincerity, "Tonight, Lord, we ask you to help us successfully rob Mick Jagger." ABC may have robbed him of the chance to end up on 2006’s best-TV lists, but here’s looking at 2007.

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