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TV Picks: 'Deadbeat,' 'Special Relativity,' 'Now en Español'

Los Angeles Times columnist Robert Lloyd's television picks this week

"Deadbeat" (Hulu). Tyler Labine has been a favorite of this department since "Reaper" (CW, 2007-09), where he played the burly, bearded best friend to Bret Harrison's demon-catching slacker. Technically, he split the best-friend post with Rick Gonzalez, but we are not here to talk about "Reaper," although I am perfectly happy to do that if you want to contact me privately.

In this more whimsical, less terrifying supernatural comedy whose second season has just begun, Labine -- who comes off, to be a little shallow about it, as a less neurotic Zach Galifianakis or a cuddlier Donal Logue -- is Pac, the slacker star, a good-hearted, bumbling ghost mumbler, reluctantly drawn into the problems of a succession of unquiet spirits. Brandon T. Jackson, as a comical drug dealer, fills the BFF post.

As spook stories go, it's not long on scares. Even the most gruesome situations are played for laughs. And the conflicts, whether with the living or dead, tend to revolve around love and money and reputation. It has heart, and not the kind that beats maddeningly from beneath the floorboards. 

The new season finds Pac in an interplanar romantic relationship with Sue (Lucy DeVito), the deceased former assistant to his nemesis Camomile White (Cat Deeley), a media-friendly phony medium. It's a friendly ghost show, vulgar at times, but not inappropriately inappropriate. Guests this year include Fred Armisen, who permeates the ether in his own life; DeVito's dad Danny DeVito; Michael Ian Black; Zachary Levi (as Abraham Lincoln); and James Franco, because this is a thing that James Franco hasn't done yet.

"Special Relativity" (specialrelativityradio.com); "Now en Español" (PBS, Friday). Voices, embodied and disembodied.

"Special Relativity" is all sound and comedy. There are no pictures, and only a single, 23-minute episode exists, subject to successful crowd-funding. (The campaign is ongoing.) It's radio, basically, and not technically a TV pick; but radio is what gave television its shape, and the Internet, where this episode lives, is where all media meet.

Creator Seth Madej has filled his first episode with evocative scenes and memorable characters, prime among them Nox, a futuristic anti-heroine who, faced with ineradicable evil in the universe determines to eradicate the universe instead. ("There's an app for that," she says, demonstrating it to a foe. "I catapult 30 donkeys into the barn, and no more universe.") A crackerjack cast features Alex Borstein ("Family Guy," "MADtv") as Nox; Dee Bradley Baker (Cinnamon Bun on "Adventure Time," Perry on "Phineas and Ferb"); man of Vine series and other acts of comedy Ted Travelstead; and James Urbaniak (Dr. Venture on "The Venture Bros," Hal Hartley movies).

It's an old commonplace that radio, like reading, engages the mind more deeply and completely than TV, making you make your own pictures. And, of course it works especially well for sci-fi, completely circumventing the problem of special effects and allowing for an exchange like this: "Do you know where I put the wormhole?" "Look under the duck-billed platypossum." It's up to you to give shape to to the words and sounds and to Nox's talking companion-pet UCA (played by Madej), who only wants to go to the park. ("I'm destroying the universe," Nox tells him, "do you understand what that means?" "Yes. can we go to the park after you destroy the universe?" "Fine, if you sit quietly while I destroy the universe, we'll go to the park." "Awesome.") It's funny, but emotionally compelling as well. Please, may I have some more?

"Now en Español," from director Andrea Meller, looks at the five women, Latinas of various ages and dispositions, who dub "Desperate Housewives" into Spanish. It's a pleasantly meandering piece that covers several subjects -- the voice-over business, typecasting, the specific challenges of the Latina actor in Hollywood, the general challenges of any actor in Hollywood -- without delving too deeply into any. (A glimpse can be as good as an examination, sometimes.) A few scenes feel arranged, in the way that reality TV brings characters together in situations that exist only to be filmed but which we are to regard as ordinary and spontaneous. But the women make good company, and their work, like any skilled specialty given due respect and attention, comes off as fascinating.

Robert Lloyd is who tweets @LATimesTVLloyd

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