In 2004, The Daily Show's live election-night special started out funny and slowly drained of mirth. Host Jon Stewart obviously expected the defeat of George W. Bush and other right-wingers he'd mercilessly satirized for four years. But Stewart became increasingly depressed as the returns favored Republicans and anti-gay referendums. By the end of the special, he was crumpling up his papers and muttering to himself ' one of the grimmest sights I've ever seen on live TV. I was just about to throw myself off a bridge when my wife wisely changed the channel to PBS's more dispassionate election coverage.
So here we are, two years later, and Stewart is once again in a jolly mood. The Iraq fiasco, the Hurricane Katrina debacle and the never-ending scandals have put the Republicans in even greater peril than they were in 2004. Stewart has scheduled another live election-night special (Tuesday, 10 p.m., Comedy Central), and I hope his staff has stowed away all sharp objects, just in case.
Class of 3000
Friday, 7 pm (Cartoon Network)
This new cartoon series was created, produced and co-written by Andre '3000' Benjamin of the hip-hop group OutKast. He even lends his voice to the main character, an Andre Benjamin-like pop star who gives up everything to be a schoolteacher.
Benjamin's creative control can mean one of two things: a) 'Class of 3000' is as hip and distinctive as OutKast or b) 'Class of 3000' is a preposterous vanity project. The answer is b), which makes the series worth watching just to see a pop star fall flat on his face.
Clearly, no one at Cartoon Network felt they could say no to Benjamin. That's the only possible explanation for the series' stupid slapstick, its crude dialogue and its racial stereotypes. Even worse is the misguided attempt to impart life lessons to young viewers. In the pilot, Benjamin's character explains that 'recording contracts bring with them lots of temptations, and if you give in to it, bad things will happen.' That's bound to be useful advice for any 10-year-olds about to sign a recording contract.
I can't wait to see what Benjamin teaches the kids next week. How to find a reliable chauffeur for your limousine?
Masters of Horror
Friday, 9 pm (Showtime)
The series' second season features new short films by famous scary-movie directors, including Tobe Hooper, Joe Dante and John Carpenter. It sounds like a ghoul's dream come true, but the directors don't always live up to their reputations.
This week's installment, John Landis' 'Family,' is set in a picturesque suburb where a disturbed bachelor (George Wendt) is putting together a surrogate family, one skeleton at a time. He has captured and killed people to be his 'wife,' his 'father' and his 'daughter,' posing them in homey positions around the house. He talks to them and imagines them talking back.
Landis is clearly referencing Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, and he aims for the classic Hitchcockian mix of gruesome imagery and gallows humor. But while Hitchcock plumbed the darkness of the human heart, Landis is merely glib. He includes the sickest stuff he can think of ' wife-beating, pedophilia, torture ' just for cheap thrills. The stabs at humor make the thrills even cheaper, as when Landis throws in a Three Stooges reference.
By the end, I was aching to subject Landis to my own Three Stooges reference ' a two-finger poke in the eyes.
Sunday, 7 pm (Fox)
Lock up the children ' it's another edition of 'Treehouse of Horror.' In the annual post-Halloween special, the 'Simpsons' producers see how much wonderfully inappropriate language, imagery and editorializing they can pack into a half-hour. One can only assume the network censors laughed so hard that they were helpless to say 'cut.'
This year's 'Treehouse' tells three scary stories, based on The Blob, The Golem and Orson Welles' War of the Worlds. It fills the screen with sex, death and blood, along with dropping satirical bombshells on such disparate targets as Arby's and Dr. Phil.
The biggest bombshell comes in the War of the Worlds segment: a devastating critique of the Iraq War. Springfield, standing in for Baghdad, is shown as a smoking ruin, having been ravaged by the bumbling alien 'occupiers.'
Now we can add 'Treehouse of Horror' to the list of Republicans' election-year woes.
Wednesday, 8 pm (WHA)
This aviation history lesson begins with the Wright Brothers, who had a hard time getting the U.S. military interested in their flying machine. When the military finally did buy a plane in 1909, the Wrights predicted that the new technology would put an end to war. 'They thought it would make war inconceivable, unless a government was willing to just go into a grinding war of attrition with mutual annihilation,' a commentator says. 'They thought no sane government would do this.'
Ah, Wilbur and Orville ' so brilliant, so naÃve. In World War I, governments raced to see who could build the most effective airborne killing machine. They added machine guns and bombs, to the point where the air battles turned the conflict into ' yes ' a grinding war of attrition with mutual annihilation.
At least Wilbur and Orville were right about one thing: No sane government would do this. They just hadn't counted on all the insane ones that would.