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Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

What to Expect From the Promising 'Kroll Show'

Comedian Nick Kroll’s new sketch series for Comedy Central Kroll Show officially premieres tonight, but it feels like the show has already been airing for weeks. Kroll’s characters – both new and old alike – have been floating around online since the show’s announcement two summers ago, giving viewers plenty of time to familiarize themselves with the man’s many talents. Favorites “Bobby Bottleservice” and “Rich Dicks” (with Kroll’s right-hand-man Jon Daly) make cameos in early episodes, along with several new faces. The show moves briskly from character to character, trading dialogue exposition for glossy, self-explanatory title cards, and rarely leaves a second of airtime without a visual gag. Kroll Show looks promising, with three things we’re specifically looking forward to:

Characters. Obviously Kroll and his characters are the centerpiece of the show. Kroll shines as he mocks the grime of society: Jersey Shore-types with “The Ed Hardy Boyz,” party boy one-percenters with “Rich Dicks,” sassy name-droppers with “Fabrice Fabrice.” Now, Kroll rests his sights on the narcissistic reality stars of the Bravo network with “PubLIZity,” in which Kroll and Jenny Slate play Liz G. and Liz B., valley girl publicists who run a firm and star in a reality show. Kroll goes all out with his characters, peppering them with an abundance of specifics to avoid broad, catchphrase-y parody. Other standouts from early episodes: desperate-for-friendship Jeff the Ref, Canadian teen soap opera “Wheels Ontario,” and “PubLIZity” spinoff canine plastic surgeon “Dr. Armond.”

Production Value. While Kroll’s character work is likely to get the most attention, the show’s direction, editing, and pacing are the true heroes. Kroll Show demonstrates a strong understanding of the genres it parodies – evidenced in the goofy background music and sound effects in “PubLIZity” and the vacant reaction shots in “Wheels Ontario.” The episodes charge forward at a breakneck pace reminiscent of Adult Swim shows, moving on to new characters and cashing in on recurring bits, buffered by high-octane dubstep theme music. Episodes typically feature a few running characters and one running blackout (for example, a gag in which characters are drenched in a celebratory Gatorade shower). Each of the worlds of these characters overflows with specifics (cupcake bikinis, the sport of whurling, Wendy living with AIDS), some of which cross-pollinate other arcs, ala Mr. Show and Arrested Development. It is in this sense that Kroll Show has the most in common with Key & Peele – of which Kroll will hopefully become a sister show: tightly written, cinematically shot, overall well produced content that translates across media.

Familiar Faces. The third element of the Kroll Show that has got us excited is the list of names of people involved. The first two episodes alone feature cameos by Jenny Slate, Ed Helms, Adam Pally, Kathryn Hahn, Mitch Hurwitz, Brie Larson, Owen Burke, Jason Mantzoukas, Brian Huskey, Andy Milonakis and Eugene Cordero. John Mulaney, Fred Armisen, and Hannibal Buress are billed to appear in coming episodes. The writing staff is headed up by John Levenstein and Jon Daly, and features funny folks like Seth Morris, Joe Mande, Megan Amram, Chelsea Peretti, and Joe Wengert. There are a lot of big UCB names there, which is nice to see. (Key & Peele’s writers room also contains improv all stars like Ian Roberts, Charlie Sanders, Rebecca Drysdale, Colton Dunn, Sean Conroy and Rich Talarico.) The fact that most of the celebrity cameos are supporting roles suggests that Kroll is a show that funny people just want to be attached to. That’s a good sign.

Kroll Show isn’t perfect by any means. Not all the pieces hit and the episodes drag somewhat when we see familiar characters and videos that have been online for months (the Chikk Klub video came out last July and feels pretty dated now). And since the show is built around Kroll’s characters, viewers who aren’t sold on the comedian’s talent – or who aren’t fans of big character comedy in general – might not warm up to the show.

That said, the show has a clear voice and consistent visual style, and it’s rather fun to see Kroll unleashed like this. As long as he and his staff can continue to churn out fresh concepts and original characters, Kroll Show could be a hit. And more importantly, if Comedy Central plays its cards right, the network may have on its hands a program it can market to the nutshot-craving male 18-24 demo it won with Tosh.0, but one that will likely appeal more at the end of the day to the Key & Peele crowd. That’s a sweet spot for Nick Kroll to find himself in, if viewers will give him that chance.

Erik Voss is a writer and performer living in Los Angeles. He hosts the Evil Blond Kid podcast and performs improv on the Harold team The Cartel at the iO West Theater.