Despite being amongst the most wryly witty comedians working today, Demetri Martin and his act aren’t probably anyone’s safe bet for expansion into a TV show. How do you translate paper easel jokes about polka dots and leather sleeves (all you need to be cool, since a leather vest is lame, and a leather jacket is awesome) and animated shorts that look like they were drawn for $14 into a 22-minute program?
The impressive thing about Important Things with Demetri Martin isn’t just how well it translated Martin’s stage show; It’s like a TV representation of all of Martin’s quirks, comedic tics, and his unique brand of obtuseness. The first season of Important Things, recently released on DVD with a bevy of deleted scenes and commentaries, is a portrait of the artist as a goofy comedian.
Each of the seven episodes of Important Things is centered on an important thing, such as chairs, brains, games and safety. The theme isn’t necessarily all that important; often they’re just a jumping off point for a bit of stand-up, hand-drawn gags, and occasionally skits that have very little to do with the theme. Not that such things matter.
The episode on safety has multiple sketches of a couple in the middle of an S&M session who forget the safety word and an ad for a security company that puts pubic hairs on all your belongings to dissuade robbers. And the episode on timing has a skeevy time-traveling gigolo. The only thing keeping the shows tied to each other is Martin, and occasionally, his “Demetrocles” and “DeMici” alter egos who pop up in just about every episode.
The standup portions of Important Things will be recognizable to long-time fans, since they share a lot in common with routines Martin did on his Comedy Central special, Demetri Martin. Person.. But the real surprise is how strong the scripted sketches are, with most of them being instantly memorable, like the best in sketch comedy (my roommate and I have been quoting from the PubeSafe Security Sketch for a month). Martin’s sketches play more absurd than more straightforward fare, and shares some kindred spirit with MTV’s recently canned Human Giant.
The season’s best sketch is also in the best episode (“Brains”), and it finds a college applicant eating dinner with Galileo, Benjamin Franklin and Shakespeare after an unfortunate lightning strike allowing him to actually eat dinner with the subjects of his college entry exam. The sketch has less to do with what the intellectual conversation would be at T.G.I.Fridays’ with three of the most important figures in the last 500 years and more about how the three of them wouldn’t know how to behave themselves (Galileo pinches the waitress’ rear, Shakespeare and Franklin fight the manager, and the kid is thoroughly embarrassed).
The main weakness of Important Things is that if you’re not already hip to Martin’s smirky cuteness, there probably won’t be much to draw you in. A lengthy sketch of an actor being unable to find the right inspiration for a scene while on camera that goes on for around five minutes (which ran during the first episode) isn’t exactly a welcome mat to newcomers. Still though, Important Things became Comedy Central’s biggest hit this winter, pulling down about 2.8 million viewers an episode, guaranteeing at least another season run.
For a network (Comedy Central) that once aired a puppets making prank phone calls for about 15 seasons (or at least Crank Yankers’ run felt that long) and a show form Robert Smigel that featured a lot of animal puppet sex (TV Funhouse), airing a show featuring a comedian best known for support roles in The Daily Show and Flight of the Conchords might have been one of their riskier properties. Luckily, Important Things proved to be worth it.