In 'Onion SportsDome,' Sports Culture In Play
The bad news includes high unemployment, political vitriol, an entertainment culture that rewards the uncouth and the unhinged, and birds falling from the sky. The good news is that the satirical newspaper The Onion is there to riff on each calamity.
The already successful and often hilarious Onion sports website has been turned into a half-hour prime-time show on Comedy Central. That means sports fans had better think twice before calling their bookies when they hear: "Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has thrown acid into the face of star quarterback Tom Brady, apparently out of jealousy that Brady is handsome and loved, while he himself is a hideous monster." If you already put money on the Jets based on the fact that their defense usually responds well to acid-scarred opposing quarterbacks, sorry -- you were warned.
The Comedy Central offering takes place in the Onion's SportsDome, which is a set, logo and style of camera pans that define a place short on attention span and long on brazen guitar riffs (WA WAA WAAA!). The DNA of ESPN's SportsCenter so infuses the visual grammar of SportsDome that you could picture a disoriented John Buccigross wandering onto the wrong set one day, and hosting the fake broadcast by mistake.
SportsDome skewers not only the ridiculous excesses of the sports world but also the specific high-energy, high-fiving, high-decibel techno beat underscoring highlight packages that ESPN traffics in. But be warned: SportsDome is not for the easily, moderately or even rarely offended.
The episode scheduled for the show's premiere Tuesday features a segment called "Who do you kill?" sponsored by Smith & Wesson. It wouldn't surprise me if Comedy Central edited out that bit, out of sensitivity to the Tucson shooting victims. But in fairness to what is a very tough piece of humor, the joke isn't on the various sports figures the SportsDome's talking heads say they'd like to eviscerate. The joke is on the hyperbolic style of sports yak that permeates radio, television and the Internet.
The sports talk radio show I listen to, for instance, poses questions to callers or guests like, "Gun to your head, who do you want as quarterback: Hasselbeck or Whitehurst?" As if the prospect of grievous bodily harm heightens ones insights as to the Seahawks' depth chart.
A lot of the SportsDome jokes go to very dark areas. Coupled with the energy of the production, I wonder if SportsDome will be able to carve out the right space for a version of those great slice-of-life Onion stories like "Area Man Constantly Mentioning He Doesn't Own A Television."
I also wonder if the TV format is an artistic improvement on what The Onion had been doing with its existing news and sports video content. The Onion News Network is a collection of usually hysterical video clips that are unburdened by the rigors of there being an Onion News Network that exists outside those clips.
All comedy is hit or miss. But an actual TV show that tries to define the personalities of the anchors and achieve a flow and story mix that mirrors a real sports show is harder, and not necessarily more rewarding, than a series of clips on a website to be shared via social media.
But even with the bits that feel strained, the entirety of the enterprise is furthered, because SportsDome always nails the details.
I don't know if SportsDome will find an audience that has a knowledge of sports and a taste for black comedy.
But I predict that the day after SportsDome airs, it will be the talk of ESPN -- with the consensus opinion being: "They've got us nailed down pretty good." Followed by, "And where has Buccigross wandered off to?" Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.