It's early in the fall season, but I'm going out on a limb and am hereby declaring Tad Low, former MTV employee and (very) occasional contributor to Good Morning America, to be The Biggest Idiot on Television. This judgment is formed on the basis of the first batch of episodes of Last Call (syndicated, check local listings). Each weeknight, a panel of five regulars critic Elvis Mitchell, magazine editor Terry McDonell, actress-writer Brianne Leary, London Sunday Times correspondent Sue Ellicott, and my man Low discusses the news and pop culture of the day for a mere 30 minutes that only feel like an hour.
Thus far, the motor-mouthed Low has distinguished himself by ridiculing a Manhattan homeless person to his face; making O.J. Simpson jokes that are in such poor taste I would seriously advise representatives of Nicole Simpson's family to tune in; and uttering brilliant insights on Haiti, such as, ''This whole Haiti thing is in the news,'' and, referring to the then-impending invasion, ''It all comes down to ratings.''
(So do you, Tad.)
Executive producer Brandon Tartikoff clearly conceived Last Call as a younger, hipper McLaughlin Group. Sitting around on a cozy set decorated with bookshelves crammed with Reader's Digest Condensed Books (a nice touch), the Last Callers giggle, gabble, and groan. Following a fashion style pioneered by the Oak Ridge Boys, Last Call's panelists dress distinctively to establish their unique personalities, then proceed to dress that way every single night, achieving the sort of uniformity they originally sought to avoid. McDonell is always in a suit, collar button clamped shut; Low always has a gleaming white undershirt peeking out from beneath his casual togs.
McDonell has quickly taken on the role of stern neocon father, denouncing ; former Washington, D.C., mayor Marion Barry as a ''crackhead'' just to get a rise out of Mitchell, who has the disconcerting habit of rising from his chair and surprising the cameraperson, who can't help but cut Mitchell's head out of the shot.
Last Call trots out the occasional guest. Novelist Jackie Collins was great; Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales managed to insult the entire show while being much funnier than anyone on it; and McDonell strove to prove he's a Serious Journalist by having writer Peter Maas on to discuss the latest in heroin use: ''They're smoking and snorting it,'' Maas said, and as if offering a scoop, added that a new strain is called China White. When I was living in L.A. in the late '70s, this heroin derivative was so common that a local punk band went by that name.
Rather than really have at each other, the panelists always seem to be pulling back, as if they'd been warned by the staff that a real, heated argument would ruin the aura of world-weary irony that Last Call is trying so hard to achieve.
Anyway, shouldn't a show called Last Call take place in a bar? Then maybe someone might get loaded enough to deck Tad Low the next time he mentions Haiti. C-