Tuned In: Sit Down, Shut Up

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There are some truly funny moments in Fox's manic, animated comedy "Sit Down, Shut Up," a series that requires almost rapt attention to pick up all the jokes and amusing dialogue that's hurled at viewers. If a TV series ever suffered from Attention Deficit Disorder, this is it.

Premiering tonight at 8:30, "Sit Down" is adapted from a live-action Australian comedy. The American version is about the faculty and staff of Knob Haven High School, located in a small Florida fishing town. Looking at the name of the town, it's clear innuendo will be a significant part of the "Sit Down" comedy currency. The school's team is called the "Baiters" -- just waiting to be preceded by the word "master" -- which only solidifies that notion.

Yet there's something clever enough about the jokes, not to mention the speed at which they fly, that mutes the show's more gratuitous impulses.

Characters include frustrated gym teacher Larry Littlejunk (voice of Jason Bateman), jock English teacher Ennis Hofftard (Will Arnett) and acting principal Sue Sezno (Kenan Thompson), who lives to say "no" to all requests.

In the premiere, all the teachers fear layoffs, except oblivious, flirtatious science teacher Miracle Grohe (Kristin Chenoweth), who doesn't believe in evolution and would be happy to see the science curriculum eliminated.

"Everyone knows it's just a bunch of voodoo the Jews came up with so they could charge us for medicine and stuff," she says.

"Sit Down" is not afraid to offend, mocking all faiths, genders, cultures, races and sexual orientations.

When Sue has to decide which teacher should be charged with digging up a buried time capsule, she lands on librarian Helen Klench (Cheri Oteri), saying, "It's not personal, but you're the most unappealing."

"Sit Down" is executive produced by "Arrested Development" mastermind Mitchell Hurwitz. "Arrested" used quick scenes and asides as part of its visual language, too. In addition, "Sit Down" frequently breaks the fourth wall as characters address viewers directly or reference the fact that they're part of a TV show.

"This better be another misleading dream sequence," Ennis gripes in a future episode.

The show's animation differs from most other series by using photographs as backgrounds with animation in the foreground. It's takes a moment to get used to this, but the characters are so outrageous that the show's different look quickly fades from consciousness.

In a recent teleconference with reporters, Hurwitz said he actually wrote "Sit Down" in 2000 and let it sit in a drawer.

"In a way, it kind of led to 'Arrested Development,' " Hurwitz said. "I just loved the idea that people are just all kinds of equally clueless and equally self-involved."

They're also not the most likable bunch on "Sit Down," another trait shared with the "Arrested" characters and one of the things that might have led to that show's low ratings. It will be interesting to see if in animated form a show built around unlikable characters fares better.

Just don't expect to see many students in the high school.

"They're as integral to the show as the paper products are to 'The Office,' " Hurwitz said. "It really is just about these unbelievably immature adults."

Hurwitz said the biggest difference in writing an animated show is that there's less need for the characters to have defined motivations.

"In live action, we spend a lot of time explaining and trying to get your character to a place where they would do this ridiculous thing, and you just cut that all out in animation," he said in January at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Universal City, Calif. "You get this license to go further."

Contact TV editor Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1112. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv .


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