To a stand-up comic, Bruce Helford is the gatekeeper to the promised land, an executive producer who has a track record of plucking promising talent from the nightclub circuit and plopping them into a cushy network series.
Helford has been at the helm of such efforts as "Roseanne" and the Drew Carey and George Lopez shows, and tonight at 9:30, comedian Wanda Sykes gets her shot on Fox with "Wanda at Large." Sykes has been bubbling on the cusp of stardom for some time, winning an Emmy for her writing and performing on "The Chris Rock Show" and earning solid notices while appearing on Larry David's standout "Curb Your Enthusiasm" series.
In "Wanda at Large," Sykes plays a struggling stand-up comic whose abrasive, pot-shot humor catches the ear of a producer (Jason Kravitz) who is looking for something to liven up his Washington, D.C.-based political talk show.
The show's staid co-anchors (Phil Morris and Ann Magnuson) soon have their hands full with Wanda, and the oil-and-water formula gets played up to the hilt.
Her best moments are taking topical issues such as gun control and restricted-membership country clubs to the streets, where with segment producer pal Keith (Dale Godboldo) in tow, her in-your-face interviews crackle with subversive energy.
There's more conflict built into Wanda's home life, where she chafes against her uptight sister-in-law/neighbor (Tammy Lauren). But Sykes' bull-in-a-china shop routine wears thin after a while, victimized by lines that are heavier with attitude than real humor.
Or it may be that Sykes is a more satisfying side dish than main course, but time and tinkering will tell.