I have discovered a new train wreck in TV. But unlike a normal wreck where, as they say, "you can't look away," I can not only look away from this one, but I am almost constantly am tempted to change the channel. And when it's over, I not only feel unfulfilled, but a little sad.
The show, of course, is MTV's "Yo Momma," and it is truly crap-tastic!
Here's the concept. We go to different "hoods" (that's neighborhoods to the melanin-impaired) and have five or six people battle each other in a match of wits. Using "Yo momma jokes" or "the dozens" as they once called them in a more authentic time. Anyway, the different competitors battle for supremacy to represent their "hood" in a four-hood bracket, in a "Snaps" tournament of sorts.
All the battles are held in alley ways near chain link fences, surrounded by a multi-cultural tapestry of streetwise young people dressed in puffy Sean John and Roca-Wear jackets, all too eager to hold a closed fist to their mouths and shout "OHHHHHHHHH" when somebody rips someone else. This show oozes authenticity.
When you have a show that is this "street," you have to have a host that has street cred to burn. Of course that man in this case is Wilmer Valderamma, a.k.a. Fez from "That '70s Show." If you thought Ashton Kutcher cornered the market on in-your-face comedy for young people, wait til you see Fez cracking jokes like Ralph Malph with a sack full of Bazooka Joe comics.
On the serious tip (yeah I said it), I think this is a brilliant concept for a show. There was a time several years ago when the "Snaps" series of books and CDs was very popular, so there is a very clear market for "Yo Momma" jokes. Some aficianados may remember the very popular novelty hit "Ya Mama" by the Pharcyde, which included some classic "Yo momma" jokes, such as "Yo mama got a glass eye with a fish in it," and "yo mama got a wooden leg with real feet," and the inimitable "yo mama got a peg leg with a kickstand."
But those are real "yo momma" jokes, filled with clever insults and actually a good deal of wit. The jokes on MTV's "Yo Momma" are hardly of this caliber. Which brings me to the two main flaws of this show. (Oh, and by the way, these two flaws make the show almost completely unwatchable.)
Firstly, the show is far too regimented. They will have the many contestants "snap" on each other for about 2 1/2 minutes before deciding who the winners are. This is not done like a live battle where we can see the participants spar and react. Rather, it is a carefully edited bunch of clips that act as sort of a "best-of/worst of" with all the best insults and the worst insults being shown, along with the appropriate contrived crowd reaction of "OOOOOOOOOOH" or "BOOOOOOOOOO" depending on the dopeness/wackness of the competitor.
When the finalists are finally pitted against each other, that too has a strict itinerary. Wilmer and the two other dime-a-dozen hosts that accompany him lay down ground rules. ("Okay, first, only momma jokes. Then you have to bust on each other's personal style. Then each other's hygiene. Then each other's penis size. Then who has more friends on MySpace....") It reminds me of the scene in the American version of "The Office" on Diversity Day where Michael encourages all the employees, "let's get real!" when they are supposed to be insulting each others' races. This part takes all the fun, creativity and extemporaneousness out of the insults.
Furthermore, there is a very dull and stupid segment where Wilmer takes each of the two finalists to the other's home and searches through his personal belongings. This always includes the too-cool-for-school Valderamma mugging for the camera and dropping bad jokes left and right. The information gathered in these rooms is ostensibly meant to inspire more deadly insults, but is always out of context and the crowd never reacts well, since they had never been, in fact, in the room themselves.
But the second (and most crippling) reason that this brilliant concept of a show remains a mess when put into practice: the "yo momma" jokes are terrible. And I don't even mean just subpar. They are completely pointless and unfunny. Once in a great while, they will throw in an old classic like "Yo momma's so black, she went to night school and was marked absent," but all the good ones are from the old bag of jokes that any good "momma joke" aficinado would already know.
Instead we get a very sorry and pathetic collection of jokes that rely on stupid non-sequiturs and lame physical humor. The two most egregious examples are the ones that contain the words "she ______ like this" or "talkin' bout." Por ejemple:
"Yo mama got legs on her shoulders, she walk like this..." [Competitor does a silly walk]
"Yo mama wear a ring with a piece of coal on it, talkin' bout 'bling BLING'!"
That's funny? It makes one weep for the state of American comedy. If this is the finest that the urban, streetwise comedy scene has to offer, I'm going to go back to watching "Yes, Dear." If you are going to create a show predicated on cleverness and creative insults, you should at least have some semblance of cleverness or creativity. Instead, we get high school age Don Rickles wannabes shouting jive at each other, not quite sure if what they are saying is funny or not. In fact, it seems the audience surrounding and watching the competitors can't figure it out either. Honestly, I found more humor in one three-minute Saturday Night Live sketch where Seth Myers plays the great insult comedian "Zinger" than I have in the several episodes of "Yo Momma" I have watched.
(There is one note I would like to mention here. For all its flaws, it is perhaps the one show I've ever seen where race is fair game. They have white boys calling out the blackness of black guys' momses, and black guys making fun of Asians' driving. In that regard, it is a somewhat refreshing change to see people who are too young to worry about getting sued for discrimination.)
I would love to see this type of competition with the likes of Oscar Wilde or Winston Churchill or Mark Twain, but unfortunately two out of the three of those men are dead. Instead, we're left with D-Redd and Fez. Oh, does the humor ever stop?