Traveling dentist falls flat


There are a few things that would predispose me to like "Glenn Martin, DDS," a new stop-motion sitcom premiering tonight on Nick at Nite (what Nickelodeon becomes when prime time comes along).

There is Kevin Nealon, who, though his work on "Saturday Night Live" never moved me much, I've greatly enjoyed on "Weeds"; here he lends his voice to the title character, a dentist who hits the road with his family in an RV-cum-office hopefully to bond. There is the great, great, great Catherine O'Hara -- from "SCTV" and much afterward, including "Beetlejuice" and "A Mighty Wind" -- as his wife, Jackie. And there is puppet animation itself, an art that, from "Gumby" onward, has delighted me all my life.

Sadly, these factors only amplify my disappointment in what, on the basis of one episode and a handful of clips, looks to be a weak and wheezy show.

The series is, to use Nickelodeon's word, a "collaboration" with Michael Eisner's Tornante Company, Eisner being the man who represents either the rebirth or the desecration of the Disney brand, depending on where you stand on the whole princess thing. Of "Glenn Martin," he has said, "it delivers humor in a mature, sophisticated manner."

I get "mature" -- there are sex jokes -- but unless "sophisticated" has taken on new meanings, that adjective does not apply.

The family also includes Conor (Peter Oldring), their hormonally inarticulate 13-year-old son; Courtney (Jackie Clarke), their Type-A 11-year-old daughter, who has her own 13-year-old slavish personal assistant (Judy Greer); and a dog named Canine who sports (it is pointed out, if you miss it) a large anus. The first episode finds the family already on the road, in Niagara Falls and Amish country, where Glenn hopes to separate his family from their distracting gadgets.

Conor becomes engaged to a 16-year-old "spinster," Courtney corrupts the local kids, and Jackie confronts their mothers.

"Why are you dressed like a man?" an Amish woman asks her. (She is wearing a sort of pantsuit.)

"Why are you dressed like Mrs. Butterworth?" Jackie cuttingly replies. Mrs. Butterworth! These lines are no funnier delivered by puppets than they would be by humans -- less so, possibly, since human actors can make unfunny lines funny by seeming to acknowledge that they are not funny. And they are not redeemed by her following line, "Don't they know that this is what they wear on 'Sex and the City'?"

There is something slightly anachronistic about many of the references here -- Mrs. Butterworth, "Sex and the City," "Mrs. Doubtfire." Even the jokes about kids with their crazy texting and video games are already tired. ("OMG your dad is so ZZZ" "LMAO.")

Also suggestive of the past is the show's laugh track: Nowadays the only reason to give a cartoon a laugh track -- unless it is an ironic comment on the use of laugh tracks -- is that you are unsure your audience will know when, or if, to laugh.

Still, except for the dog's hindquarters, I like the look of it. (Eric Fogel of MTV's "Celebrity Deathmatch" oversees the animation.) Press materials indicate that the Martins will be visiting Las Vegas, Yellowstone, the Mall of America and Hollywood in future adventures, and as a fan of the form, I'm interested to see what the animators make of them. But I may be watching with the sound down.



'Glenn Martin, DDS'

Where: Nick at Nite

When: 8 tonight

Rating: TV-PG-DL (may be unsuitable for young children with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language)

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