What is it about local news that attracts comedians like B-list celebs to reality shows? Is it the breathtaking collision of pathos and pomposity? Or the hilariously minor human interest stories reported by anchors in tacky suits and sad, oversprayed hairdos? WKRP, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Anchorman—it’s quite a lineage. And now add to that list Dog Bites Man, a mockumentary series about the staff of American Lives, a lackluster news show broadcast on Spokane’s KHBX.
The show’s creator is Dan Mazer, the man responsible (along with comedian Sacha Baron Cohen) for Da Ali G Show, a pioneering Brit comedy that centered around fake interviews with real politicians who weren’t in on the joke. But the atmosphere of Dog is closer to The Office than Ali G—there’s no laugh track, the single handheld camera lends a docu-vérité feel, and the humor mines that now familiar seam of excruciating humor based around workplace humiliations and petty disputes. And it works the cringe comedy formula reasonably well, thanks to an improv-schooled cast that includes Upright Citizens Brigade star Matt Walsh as anchorman Kevin Beekin. A smarmy, unselfaware boss in the David Brent mold, Kevin tries to impress sexy new producer Tillie (Andrea Savage) by popping a tape of yesterday’s Jeopardy in his VCR and shouting out all the correct questions. Just like Brent, Kevin has a mealy-mouthed lackey who scrambles to do his boss’s bidding, which in the debut episode includes procuring a corner table at the Olive Garden for Kevin’s date with Tillie, as well as making high-pitched sex noises through the wall to convince Tillie that Kevin’s having sex with someone else.
The actors step on each others’ lines with awkward grace. It’s hard to say who’s the most clod-like; although Tillie initially appears to be the straight woman, she turns out to be as bad as Kevin, constantly interrupting his interviews to suggest more penetrating questions (“How big are your testicles?” Tillie asks a bodybuilder they’re profiling) and engaging in one-upsmanship. “She loves to bark orders, even in the bedroom,” he tells one interview subject as their bickering quickly overshadows their work. But when things go wrong, the band of screwups pull together. “Remember when we did the World’s Fattest Pets segment and Glen lost all the tapes? We made that work,” Kevin comforts Tillie. “You mean when we got those two rabbits and tied them together to look like a big fat one?” she says, a glimmer of hope in her eyes. Eventually, a cell phone call cheers her up. “Seven people died, so we’re off the hook!” she rejoices, and you can just about imagine someone in a shabby little newsroom somewhere right now saying the very same thing.