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  Somebody's crying

I DON'T KNOW about art, but I know what I like – and while I hold my beliefs dear, I suffer from what might be called suspect taste. There have been spirited arguments about why Stone Cold is vastly inferior to Road House and serious diatribes about why 1983 was the banner year for music video. And I am convinced that Life with Jeeves is more important than The Iliad. Film-history classes, foreign cinema, the Metropolitan Opera, wine tasting, art museums, gem polishing – I've tried them all, and I'd rather watch Sixteen Candles any day. What besides annoying subtitles does the Odessa steps sequence in The Battleship Potemkin have on Ben Gazzara rolling across a used-car lot in a monster truck? I wish my tastes could be written off as hipster irony, but the truth is I've always had the knack for falling in with the out crowd. A warm sofa, a cold beer, and two thumbs up; that was me. Then came The Chris Isaak Show.

I knew it was gonna be rough sledding last season when, in the first episode, I found a number of errors: the girl in the background was topless, then clothed, then topless again in the same scene; wristwatches inexplicably changed wrists – gaffs you couldn't miss. I recall a naked mermaid, sex in a horse stall, and my wife begging for the clicker before she even realized it wasn't a half-hour program but a full 50 minutes. The second show was worse, and the third I skipped in favor of getting plastered at Sadie's Flying Elephant. Then I forgot to pay the cable bill, and Chris Isaak faded into my gray matter somewhere between Avenging Justice and Emo Phillips's career.

Imagine my surprise – after reestablishing an amicable working relationship with AT&T Broadband – to find out that The Chris Isaak Show was still alive, the first season was in reruns on VH1, and in promos Showtime was promising a gaggle of corporate Safe Rock band cameo appearances during the second season. A second season! The mind reeled! I am a person who is compelled to love the unlovable, but I was baffled by The Chris Isaak Show. In theory, the show had unlimited potential: plumber's crack as comedy, boner jokes, kielbasa-as-boner jokes, throwing up on cleavage, sexist banter of all kinds, face slapping, nudity – all the necessary ingredients for hilarity were there. But somehow none worked on the screen as well as they work here on paper. It was unsettling, and I needed to understand the intense repulsion it triggered within me. Was I just a ballplayer who had stayed in the game too long and lost my skills? Could some till-now-dormant gene for discriminating taste have activated itself? I phoned Showtime publicity for an advance copy of this season's first two shows. I needed to know that I still had what it took – not just for myself but also for Shemp Howard and Al Bundy and Michael Madsen and Patrick Swayze and all the other greats of contemporary culture that history and highbrows have steamrolled. Aided by some weed, a bag of Funyuns, and a rack of macrobrew, I hit mission control. And after considerable study, I am certain of this: The Chris Isaak Show is the worst hour in the history of premium cable programming.

The guy-next-door-who-happens-to-be-a-somewhat-famous-rock-star shtick is phony. When Don Johnson was Nash Bridges, they were the same guy – an egotistical ass who had no idea how out of touch he was from everyone and everything around him. Isaak styles himself as an aw-shucks kinda guy in the Elvis mold, but his face gives him away. I don't mean his three expressions: nice-guy smarmy, wise-guy smarmy, and extra-smarmy. Isaak looks like he doesn't believe what's coming out of his mouth. Aw-shucks guys don't drop smartass quips every two minutes; they don't wear jackets that look like they were stolen from the maître d' at House of Beef and Be-Dazzler; and they don't have fantasy conversations with naked mermaids. Which brings me to another problem: the blatant misuse of nudity. Mona, the Bimbo's mermaid (played by Bobby Jo Moore), has a great ass – so she spends an entire show stomach-down on a bed pretending to be swimming. Hey – Mona has legs; would it hurt if she got up for a glass of water every now and then? Then there's the business about casting the band – who look slightly less rigid than a posse of cigar store Indians – in the show. They try hard, but it's painful watching guys deliver their lines like they're still hooked on phonics. Or course, real actor Jed Rees – Anson, the lovable fuckup – is no better, and he's definitely not lovable; in fact, he's the most witlessly annoying guy on the tube since Andrew Dice Clay tried a career makeover. Bridget Fonda as Isaak's love interest should provoke us to wonder if she and Chris are going to make it. All I really want to know is if her agent has been fired yet. And in a side note to Isaak, it should be pointed out that any man who knows what a loofah is would not be dating Bridget Fonda. Or any other woman for that matter. Finally, there's the incessant bad-mouthing of journalists, a recurring theme in episode one. Don't they know we review this stuff? Maybe it was spin control, in advance.

Looking back, I'm comfortable in the knowledge that my bad taste is in good standing. The Chris Isaak Show is terrible, although it's yet to become one of the truly great bad shows. Frankly, I don't have time to wait around. The Married with Children marathon calls. (John O'Neill)