Don’t let this sly, quirky show get lost in the new-season shuffle. My Talk Show is about a former UHF talk-show host in a small Wisconsin town who is offered her own nationally syndicated program; in this spoof of talk shows, made-up characters play host to real-life stars (Jim Belushi and RoboCop’s Peter Weller are among the first few).
The premise of My Talk Show may remind you of Fernwood 2-Night, the 1977-78 talk-show satire currently in reruns on cable’s Nick at Nite. But where the host of Fernwood 2-Night was the snide and witty Martin Mull, this talk show is overseen by Cynthia Stevenson as Jennifer Bass, a terribly earnest, polite young woman. Stevenson is Remarkable — a resourceful actress who does a subtle, funny job of portraying someone who’s charming but awkward, a little bit flustered on-camera.
My Talk Show may be gimmicky, but it’s an amusing, well-thought-out gimmick. Jennifer broadcasts the show from her Wisconsin house, her guests sit on her living-room couch, and the guests’ ”green room” is her bedroom (Weller pokes through Jennifer’s dresser drawers while waiting to go on). Music is provided by an elderly organist — ”my old school nurse,” says Jennifer — named Mrs. Battle (Josephine Hinds). There’s no hip, David Letterman-Paul Shaffer banter here; when Jennifer asks Mrs. Battle how she’s feeling, the woman says, ”My feet are killing me.” End of conversation.
Like much TV these days, My Talk Show is about how everyone in America wants to be on television. But it makes this familiar point in a fresh way, without a trace of cooler-than-you irony or sarcasm. Stevenson’s Jennifer deserves to become the first cult TV star of the ’90s. B+