Comedy Central, like any good targeted network with a young male audience, is constantly asking itself, What do guys like? Guys like comedy. Guys like the Internet. And guys like point-of-view porn and Girls Gone Wild videos. Ahem, so I’m told.
The channel has combined these great tastes together in a fascinatingly bad comedy debuting tonight after South Park. American dudes, meet your Secret Girlfriend.
The premise of Secret Girlfriend is that the protagonist is You. The lead character—a guy, somewhere in his twenties, with a couple of nutty friends—is played by the camera. (Oh, You: You are seriously making us re-think that 2006 TIME Person of the Year cover.)
As the action of the pilot plays out (dude goes to a party, makes a beer run, meets a new girl and has lots of makeup sex with his hot, crazy ex), the other characters speak to, are looked at and, in the case of the women, um, act upon the protagonist by addressing the camera. If the young Jay McInerney had worked at Maxim instead of the New Yorker, and shot a web video series, this is what he would have made. (The show is actually based on a series of web shorts from Atomic Wedgie TV.)
The creepiest aspect of the show, and yet the one that may be likeliest to keep it on the air, is that it uses the camera-eye gimmick to ogle the female characters and get You, the viewer, a ton of virtual nooky. Now you might think that a half-hour show [each installment is two 11-minute episodes] built around hot chicks partying with you, riding you, or gazing saucily at your virtual crotch is less a sitcom than a softcore ego stroke. Or, at least, like something is meant to be stroked while you watch it.
But that would be unsophisticated. You see, the show is actually making comedy out of guys’ horniness! When You, through the camera, check out a bunch of girls’ asses at a convenience store, or at a party, or at a lesbian bar, or underwater in a pool, you’re not being cheaply titillated, you are participating in a sly comedy of manners. It’s funny, because guys like to check out girls’ asses! And also, you get to check out girls’ asses! How droll! How metafictional! Look at the comic irony on those knockers!
OK, whatever: there’s a long tradition of guy-oriented sex comedies—see Porky’s and American Pie—and that doesn’t mean they have to be The Benny Hill Show. Secret Girlfriend is just too clumsy, and not funny enough. Part of the problem is the format. Being addressed in a second-person monologue might work well in a 90-second web-video clip. But over a full TV comedy episode, it sucks the life out of the characters.
We’re supposed to believe that You, the protagonist, are awesome: cool, funny, apparently irresistible. Why? You never say anything clever or charming. You never say anything. (Everything we learn about You comes from people talking to You, and a constant stream of text messages.) It makes all the interactions implausible (unless the viewer is an egomaniac), and it flattens out the supporting characters, since they rarely have a good conversation to define them.
The supporting characters are not terribly drawn, and actually you could build a pretty good sitcom around them. (The exception being the ex, Mandy, who is horribly overacted by Alexis Krause, and is basically just a delivery system for cleavage.) New girlfriend Jessica (Sara E.R. Fletcher) is sort of like Pam from The Office as re-imagined by a Bud Light commercial. (When You first meet her on a beer run—You are checking out her ass, of course—she fake-scolds You, “Excuse me! My tits are up here!”) But Fletcher gives her some spark and personality, for which she should get extra credit, having to spend 90% of her screen time pretending to be hot for a video camera.
And best friends Sam (Michael Blaiklock) and Phil (Derek Miller)–two schlubs who dream of making hit viral videos–have a good comic rapport, even as they make you wonder how they and their camera friend are able to constantly score such rocking chicks. In the funniest storyline of the pilot second episode, they visit a strip club and become obsessed–by its surprisingly excellent buffet food, which they are determined to publicize to the world.
Secret Girlfriend is kind of like a bad strip club with an awesome buffet: the best parts are those that have little to do with the main premise. There are some laughs in Secret Girlfriend if You know where to look. But by the end of it, I was completely sick of Yourself.