'Nice Lady' brings on nervous laughter from audience

Posted 12/1/17

By Kevin McDonough

Can a stand-up special be both timeless and timely? Taped in August, "Michelle Wolf: Nice Lady" (9 p.m. Saturday, HBO, TV-MA) does not reflect the ongoing crises in pop culture and comedy in the wake of sordid revelations about …

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'Nice Lady' brings on nervous laughter from audience

Posted

By Kevin McDonough

Can a stand-up special be both timeless and timely? Taped in August, "Michelle Wolf: Nice Lady" (9 p.m. Saturday, HBO, TV-MA) does not reflect the ongoing crises in pop culture and comedy in the wake of sordid revelations about figures from Harvey Weinstein to Louis C.K.

At the same time, Wolf's sneaky feminist asides almost seem ready-made for our particular moment. The comedy writer and on-air veteran of "The Daily Show With Trevor Noah" and "Late Night With Seth Meyers" prefaces most of her jokes with declarations that there is much in the news to discuss. But for a brief bit about Hillary Clinton that gives this special its title, her jokes and observations largely concern timeless differences between men and women. She believes Clinton lost because she was not a "nice lady," and that she would not be fun to talk to at a party. And she's fine with that because nice ladies don't get things done. Only she doesn't use the word "things."

Her other asides include a long digression on the differences between men's and women's bathrooms and the curious fact that men seem to want to "protect" women using the ladies' room, yet have no general idea of what women do while they're indisposed.

Wolf has a rather screechy voice, and she makes the most of that aspect of her personality. Her approach to deadpan is also a tad unsteady. She sports a brilliant smile and frequently seems on the verge of laughing at her own material.

Rare for a comedy special of this sort, the studio audience for "Nice Lady" rarely convulses in belly laughs, hoots or applause. The reaction seems as tentative as Wolf's delivery.

• Romance ensues after professional obligations keep a couple apart for three consecutive holiday seasons in the 2017 bauble "Four Christmases and a Wedding" (8 p.m. Saturday, Lifetime, TV-PG).

The network that once brought us "Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever" appears to have thrown in the towel and now wants to out-Hallmark Hallmark.

• CBS spends Sunday night in the wayback machine, celebrating two shows that debuted in 1968 and 1967, respectively.

"Fifty Years of 60 Minutes" (7 p.m.) glances back at five decades of stories, from Mike Wallace's patented gotcha interviews and corporate scandals to more heartwarming celebrations of culture high and low, child geniuses and musical prodigies.

"The Carol Burnett 50th Anniversary Special" (8 p.m.) offers two hours of clips and reminiscences from Burnett, original cast members Vicki Lawrence and Lyle Waggoner, costume designer Bob Mackie, along with celebrities who grew up watching the show.

Jim Carrey, Kristin Chenoweth, Stephen Colbert, Harry Connick Jr., Bill Hader, Jay Leno, Jane Lynch, Bernadette Peters, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short and others will be on hand to salute the sketch series.

Curiously, this group of fans once included disgraced actor Kevin Spacey, who has since been excised from the special, just as he has been digitally edited out of the upcoming Ridley Scott movie "All the Money in the World."

Much of the advance CBS promotion for the Burnett special touts it as a groundbreaking series. I beg to differ. "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" is soon to turn 50 and was a groundbreaking show. But I'm not sure people remember it with great affection. People love and remember "The Carol Burnett Show" not because it was the first of its kind, but perhaps because it was one of the last of its breed.

It was one of the last variety series that families watched together. Five decades ago, television sets were major appliances and most houses had only one. As smaller, cheaper sets arrived from Japan, families could afford TVs just for the kids' playroom or bedroom. Soon ABC skewed its network for a younger audience who watched "The Partridge Family" and "The Brady Bunch" in one room while the folks took in NBC's "McMillan & Wife" or CBS's "Cannon" in the living room.

"The Carol Burnett Show" was also one of the last comedy series written by and for people old enough to remember a world before television. The show's most celebrated gag involves "Gone With the Wind," a movie from 1939. Not long after, comedy series like "Saturday Night Live" and "SCTV" offered jokes for an audience raised on television.

Like millions of people, my wife remembers "The Carol Burnett Show" as something she watched every week with her mother. The ability to get family members of different generations to laugh at the same joke is harder than it sounds. No wonder so many people look back at it with warm feelings.

SATURDAY'S HIGHLIGHTS

• College football action includes the ACC Championship game between Miami and Clemson (8 p.m., ABC) and the Big 10 Championship Game between Ohio State and Wisconsin (8 p.m., Fox).

• A dancer vanishes before a big performance on "Your Worst Nightmare" (10 p.m., ID, TV-14).

• Mel Gibson, Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, John Lithgow, Shirley Ballas and Kesha appear on "The Graham Norton Show" (10 p.m., BBC America, TV-14).

• Saoirse Ronan hosts "Saturday Night Live" (11:30 p.m., NBC, TV-14), featuring musical guest U2.

CULT CHOICE

Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte star in the 1954 adaptation of the Broadway musical "Carmen Jones" (10 p.m. Sunday, TCM), based on Bizet's opera.

SUNDAY'S HIGHLIGHTS

• The Seattle Seahawks host the Philadelphia Eagles in "Sunday Night Football" (8:20 p.m., NBC).

• Arrival in Jamaica on "Outlander" (8 p.m., Starz, TV-MA).

• Negan needs help on "The Walking Dead" (9 p.m., AMC, TV-MA).

• Larry plays host to two ingrates on the season finale of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (10 p.m., HBO, TV-MA).

• Nainoa Thompson discusses the Polynesian tradition of ocean navigating using the stars as a map on "StarTalk With Neil deGrasse Tyson" (11:30 p.m., National Geographic, TV-PG).

SATURDAY SERIES

A familiar face on "Kevin Can Wait" (8 p.m., CBS, r, TV-PG) * Karen grieves on "Will & Grace" (8 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14) * Snowbound on "Man With a Plan" (8:30 p.m., CBS, r, TV-PG) * Mateo needs help on "Superstore" (8:30 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14) * Lost in a bog on "NCIS: New Orleans" (9 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14) * "Dateline" (9 p.m., NBC) * "48 Hours" (10 p.m., CBS) * A vintage helping of "Saturday Night Live" (10 p.m., NBC, TV-14).

SUNDAY SERIES

A teenaged Lisa glances back on "The Simpsons" (8 p.m., Fox, TV-PG) * Misplaced lollipops on "America's Funniest Home Videos" (8 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) * Undercover at a haunted hayride on "Ghosted" (8:30 p.m., Fox, TV-PG) * Meg drinks too much on "Family Guy" (9 p.m., Fox, TV-14) * On two episodes of "Shark Tank" (ABC, TV-PG), holiday-inspired inventions (9 p.m.), an airport navigation app (10 p.m., r) * Jasper acts out on "The Last Man on Earth" (9:30 p.m., Fox, TV-14) * Sam takes on an old alias on "NCIS: Los Angeles" (10 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14).

© 2017, United Feature Syndicate