Karina’s Capsule: Clark and Michael

If you’ve heard of Michael Cera, it’s probably because you (like me) were an obsessive fan of the canceled FOX series Arrested Development. Just 15 when the documentary-style comedy started airing in 2003, Cera showed incredible maturity as a comedian in the role of George-Michael Bluth, an awkward good kid trapped in a family full of psychopaths, who just happened to be nursing an unfortunate (but not necessarily unrequited) crush on his cousin. Saddled with one of the more out-there plotlines on a show that built love triangles around Liza Minnelli and cast Charlize Theron as a mysterious mental retard, Cera made incestuous longing seem charming and reasonable.

According to TV Squad, Cera was signed by CBS last fall to produce and star in an online-only mockumentary about two young, hapless TV producers, to be called The Good Life. The show debuted late last week with new title: Clark and Michael.

According to MediaBistro, episodes are set to appear every Wednesday on ClarkandMichael.com, a site bearing no obvious CBS branding. Though CBS has uploaded a few clips to UnCut Video with the corporate name intact, there are no episodes on CBS’ Innertube as of yet–possibly suggesting that the network is making a half-assed attempt to sell this studio-backed production as a “spontaneous” phenomenon.

That move might backfire, because Clark and Michael‘s network genesis shines through. The show is structured more or less like a traditional, incident-driven sitcom. Most of the seemingly-improvised dialogue is delivered from a living room couch. There’s a wacky neighbor. There are celebrity cameos (and, according to IMDB, there are going to be a lot more of them). Production values aside, there’s nothing in the first episode that marks Clark and Michael as a product of online video culture.

But none of that really matters, because Clark and Michael is funnier than 90 percent of the intentionally funny videos on the internet, and most of that owes to the fact that Cera is really, really good. As an improv artist, he seems to spend most of his time working towards employing a handful of signature facial expressions.

All of these are gold, but my favorite is a little something that I like to call “Magical Happiness” — AD fans will remember it from George-Michael’s reminiscences about sneaking into that erotic French film with Maeby. Cera whips this one out in Clark and Michael‘s premiere shortly after the Three’s Company-inspired opening credits. Michael’s explaining a nonsensical plan to drum up interest in a script by dropping it off at a studio with no contact information, and behind his ear-to-ear smile and pinwheel eyes, you can see him fantasizing about an alternate universe in which he wins all.

At eleven-plus minutes, Clark and Michael‘s first episode is probably a little bit longer than it needed to be. The editing is also a little odd, almost too cinematic–at one point, we get a shot of Clark and Michael eating in a diner, which seems to exist for no other reason than to tell us that Clark and Michael sometimes eat at diners. If there’s one fatal flaw here, it’s that the show’s pace is too slow for its distribution context. If CBS is smart, they’ll hire a kid from YouTube to cut the remaining episodes–or, at the very least, have them reshaped by whoever cut the YouTube “preview” embedded above.

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