ABC is dumping this new creation from Twin Peaks boys David Lynch and Mark Frost — about the early days of live TV — into a summertime spot that will probably attract few viewers, which lets you know what the network probably thinks of On the Air.
But what do TV networks know? Sure, On the Air is unfunny, but not in a stupid Who’s the Boss? way — rather, in a bizarre, so-corny-it’s-surreal way. The premise? Each week we’re shown a new episode of The Lester Guy Show, a 1957 New York variety show hosted by Guy (Ian Buchanan, the oily Richard Tremayne in Peaks). The Guy show is always a disaster, full of props that fall apart, backdrops that tip over, performers who enter on the wrong cue. This is due, in part, to the fact that Guy’s director, played by David L. Lander (Squiggy in Laverne and Shirley), speaks in an unplaceable, impenetrable accent — no one knows what the devil he’s saying.
But it’s also because Guy and the rest of the cast and crew are boobs, incompetents, and fools who are forever misunderstanding and fighting with each other. (Miguel Ferrer, Peaks’ angry FBI man, Albert Rosenfield, is particularly effective as the show’s always-steamed producer.) We are also shown the reactions of ’50s families watching Guy in their homes: Everyone is a happy, grinning moron.
On the Air is a one-joke sitcom that makes explicit the message that always lurked behind Twin Peaks’ towering pine trees — that TV is stupid, and people will watch anything. Its undisguised contempt is pretty enthralling. B+