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(21 May 2006)


Dog Bites Man

Regular airtime: Wednesdays, 10:30pm ET (Comedy Central)
Cast: Matt Walsh, Andrea Savage, Zach Galifianakis, A.D. Miles
by Jesse Hicks

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Typical


Okay, this is what we’re gonna do: we’re gonna go into a sandwich shop and we’re gonna have one gay person order a sandwich and then have one normal person go in and order a sandwich and see how their experiences differ. into a sandwich shop and we’re gonna have one gay person order a sandwich and then have one normal person go in and order a sandwich and see how their experiences differ.
—Tilly Sullivan (Andrea Savage)


Judging by the title card that opens Dog Bites Man—“This is the real life story of how the news is made and the people who make it”—you’d think it’s a satire in the vein of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report. It’s not.


Instead, it’s a fairly typical ensemble comedy that occasionally skewers local news. Caricaturing the clueless, crusading self-importance of news-you-can-use investigative reporting, it’s amusing, but lacks bite. It’s hard to imagine an easier target, and Comedy Central’s web page pretty well captures the breadth of possibilities when it describes the show’s KHBX news team as willing to “tackle hard-hitting stories that other newsmen shy away from, like ‘What’s in Your Muffin?’ and ‘Do Sneeze Guards Really Work?’” Local news tend to be fear-mongering that masquerades as “human interest.” Got it.


The first show finds the team reunited with former intern Tilly Sullivan (Andrea Savage), returning as a producer. She’s had past romantic entanglements with the on-air talent, Kevin Beekin (Matt Walsh), who’s still attracted to her but also envious of her new position. He deals with this situation in the most immature way possible: their first scene together finds him casually tossing out answers to a pre-taped Jeopardy! episode while pretending to forget their dinner engagement. Much of the show’s comedic points are scored off the tension between Tilly and Kevin, but the half-hearted setup suggests it’s more a device than an important plot point.


Rounding out the team is director Alan Finger (Zach Galifianakis), a low-key oddball whose contributions tend toward mumbled non-sequiturs. He shyly explains packing a razor after mistaking a racial sensitivity meeting for a “facial” sensitivity meeting. Marty Shonson (A.D. Miles), is his mirror image, a high-energy oddball who claims to have “looked down the double-barrel of the racist shotgun” in growing up as a redhead. Galifianakis and Shonson have had the best lines of the series thus far, partly because they’re not burdened by the minimal character development endured by Savage and Walsh. They’re free to remain parodies.


Into this already muddled setup come Dog Bites Man‘s improvised interviews, in which the four protagonists, posing as a local news crew, blunder cluelessly through whatever issue they’re supposed to be reporting. The premiere episode featured Kevin insulting a young bodybuilder by suggesting most bodybuilders are bisexuals with shrunken testicles; the second featured Tilly insulting a gay rights activist by asking him to toss in a “girlfriend” or two, so his interview will “read a little bit more gay for the Spokane audience.” This is the basic pattern for the interviews (two per show), and while entertaining, they’re also formulaic. Perhaps limited by the characters they’re playing, the four gifted comics—Walsh, for one, has done better work in virtually the same setting on The Daily Show—seem surprisingly limp during the improv scenes. There’s never the feeling of an “ah-ha!” moment where they seize on an idea and run with it.


It’s a complaint that can be applied to the show as a whole: Dog Bites Man feels flat. It’s consistently amusing, but the spoofs are too easy, the characters too caricatured, and the plots too predictable. It tickles, but rarely provokes the full-on belly laugh you’d expect from such talented performers.

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