Fans of Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter would not be surprised if Michael & Michael Have Issues was cancelled quickly. Their previous two shows The State and Stella met untimely ends and thus their fans are probably skeptical that the wider cable audience will ever warm to this duo and their surreal humor. They're right to be pessimists, too, because unfortunately Issues is not built solidly enough to convert the uninitiated.

The Michaels play themselves in the show: a couple of comedians who star in a sketch television show. Occasionally we see the show-within-the-show - taped sketches and live comedy segments - the majority of the show is these two comedians working together behind-the-scenes to prepare the show. In the episode aired at a Comedy Central screening tonight, an intern at the show wants to interview Michael and Michael to write an article for his school newspaper. Showalter agrees while Black declines. However, Black overhears Showalter badmouthing him in the interview so he decides he wants to arrange a sit-down with the intern as well. This plotline, interspersed with the sketches and live bits, takes up the entire episode.

This is an amusing enough premise for an episode but it comes back to one joke over and over: Michael and Michael bicker constantly. Everything that one of them does, the other finds annoying. This particular episode ends with the two actually coming to blows (kind of). Their hostility doesn't result from them being wildly different people, either - in fact, the reason the characters don't get along is because they're too similar. They both want this intern to portray them as being the dominant creative force in the duo's show. At least in Stella, there was some differentiation between the three main characters and this could be counted on to drive the stories forward and create new jokes. How many times can we watch these two guys fighting like five year olds in a playground, though?

There's no supporting cast to help carry the load, either. Who will the show turn to in order to spice things up? The producer who's embarrassed by the duo's behavior? The intern who's embarrassed by the duo's behavior? Michael and Michael's spouses in the show are, like the crew of the fictional show, just bystanders to the duo's innane behavior. While their husbands duke it out on the front lawn, they exchange pleasantries. I don't think Michael and Michael's hostility toward each other, nor everyone else's resigned "Oh, there they go again" attitude is enough to sustain a series. It was barely enough for a single episode, really.

It feels like the producers of Michael & Michael Have Issues were conducting an experiment: "How much can we slim down this television show, how little do we need in order to create scripted comedy?" To make the show as lucrative as possible, it's supposedly going to have live commercials (though the episode we saw didn't have any). Other than Showalter and Black's salaries, it doesn't seem like much money was thrown around at all. As I said, there's no other notable cast members and I'd be surprised if there are any writers besides the two stars. The taped sketches in the show felt like they were scripted in the car ride to the studio. In the first, a girl explains that she's been able to keep her abstinence pledge because of the support of her boyfriend. Her boyfriend, played by Black, is clearly gay and this joke is hammered into our skulls for the next three to four minutes. The other sketch is a fake movie trailer about Black being stalked by a creepy girl, played by Showalter. Really, guys? Gay impressions and guys in dresses? Considering that the series' overall premise of two guys constantly feuding like an old married couple will probably result in gay jokes itself, it seems unnecessary to "go there" in these sketches as well.

You don't need a big budget to create comedy - in fact, the only good bit in the show is the live audience segment where the duo explains a series of new curse words they've made up (an effort which requires only a microphone and a paper easel). If the greater show is unable to tap their talent or enhance their comedy in any way, what's the point? They're wasting whatever small amount of money they're putting into this endeavor.

Michael & Michael Have Issues premieres Wednesday, July 15 at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT on Comedy Central.

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