Though it feels strangely shameful to admit to liking “Kid Notorious,” the new Comedy Central series, in which self-mythologizing movie producer Robert Evans lends his voice to an animated version of himself, I do. The show is the brainchild of Brett Morgen, who co-directed last year’s “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” the film version of Evans’ memoirs, and dreamed one night that Evans was a cartoon -- something Morgen might just as easily have noticed while he was awake.
Hollywood is full of people who used to be somebody, living out their remaining days in that flickering fog where celebrity meets obscurity. While Evans, who is 73, is nowadays more famous for having been famous, it would be wrong to dismiss him as completely a legend in his own mind. (And he did in fact produce a movie this year, “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.”) His life was for a time authentically fabulous. He was good-looking enough to have been discovered twice by Hollywood; he married movie stars and beauty queens; and for about a decade he either produced or oversaw the production of a string of fine films, including “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Godfather” “Chinatown” and “Urban Cowboy,” before drugs and other bad choices effectively ended his run and blackened his reputation.
But the show is not based on the man, so much as on his self-image. Drawn as his younger, haler self (albeit with an enormous head and the physique of a marionette), living in a world where he still matters, he is cast here as an operator, a con artist, a sage, an action hero. We see him escaping from a lunatic asylum (as he once did in real life, though not, as here, across rooftops), brawling with an enormous Francis Ford Coppola, dangling from the strut of a helicopter as he escapes from a Himalayan mountaintop with a golden yak under one arm. He plays poker with Donald H. Rumsfeld and Jacques Chirac -- though his actual old pal, Henry A. Kissinger, is nowhere to be seen -- and mounts a gangsta rap “Godfather” on Broadway with bona-fide gangstas. He carries on with cartoon women a third his age (as he does in the cartoon he lives daily). His dialogue is based on the overripe, aphoristic prose style of “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” which is to say, it sounds like a parody of Frank Sinatra at his most hard-boiled and hipstery.
Yet for all that it indulges in tropes of antediluvian white maleness, “Kid Notorious” is also a thing of groovy inclusiveness. “I’m not down with homophobia,” Evans tells cartoon Rumsfeld, after cartoon Chirac is outed as gay. “All love is cool.” The humor is cheerfully profane, politically incorrect, and heavily genital, and probably as close to libelous as the lawyers would allow: Though “Kid Notorious” may make Evans some new fans, it won’t win him back any former friends; Sharon Stone and Coppola, with whom Evans has battled in the past, are both unkindly caricatured, as is the screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, who is unnamed, but unmistakable, if you happen to know what Eszterhas looks like.
Ultimately, however, the tone is more sweet than sour. Like most situation comedies, the show is essentially about “family,” which in Evans’ case consists of two badly paid servants and a cat. Alan Selka, Evans’ actual butler, plays his butler, called English, while Niecy Nash, of “Reno 911,” voices Tollie Mae, based on his own late housekeeper. (At one point, Evans kisses her on the top of her head; it is arrestingly sweet, and certainly something I’ve never seen another cartoon character do.) The best jokes are the most domestic: When told he won’t find yak’s milk at Trader Joe’s, Evans responds, “Well, Albertsons must carry it -- it’s a huge store.”
Also modeled on life are Evans’ Beverly Hills estate, Woodland (down to the rooster statue out front), his fondness for Cosmopolitans -- this alone marks him as antiquated -- and his friendship with Slash, the former Guns N’ Roses guitarist, who plays himself in two of the first three episodes. Slash makes soup, frets about wet towels on the floor and wonders who ate his carrot sticks.
Because Evans is being mocked even as he’s being celebrated, and because his coolness is inextricable from his corniness, it’s hard to tell where the irony starts and ends -- so much so that one is not entirely sure whether the star is really in on the joke, or so far out of it that he can’t see the joke at all. But it is Evans’ own weird charm, which radiates through his low, lightly graveled voice, that makes the show work. He was patently a bad actor in the few films he made in his youth, but he’s brilliant voicing his idealized self -- accomplished enough to pull off the comedy, but with an attractive, ineradicable note of amateurism that keeps this bizarre cartoon surreally real.
Where: Comedy Central
When: 10:30 p.m. Wednesdays, with multiple repeats; premieres tonight
Rating: The network has rated the show TV-14 (may not be suitable for children under the age of 14).
Robert Evans...Robert Evans
Niecy Nash...Tollie Mae
Executive producers Robert Evans, Brett Morgen, Alan Freedland and Alan Cohen.