Tuned In: The Verdicts

'Root of All Evil' a good comedy package; 'Canterbury's Law' average legal drama

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The premise of "Lewis Black's Root of All Evil" couldn't be simpler: Black ("The Daily Show") plays judge as two comics, acting as prosecutors, make a case for the ultimate evilness of their clients. The format is really just a gimmick that allows the comics and Black to do stand-up routines keyed to the two subjects on trial.

Premiering at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday following the season premiere of "South Park," the first "Root of All Evil" pits Oprah Winfrey against the Catholic Church. If you have any sensitivity on either topic, you'll be offended. If not, you'll probably laugh. A lot.

After Black's monologue introduces the topics, comic Paul F. Tompkins goes after Oprah, positing that she's the leader of a cult, that she's so vain she'll only put herself on the cover of her magazine, etc. His best zingers come when he explores why she built a school in Africa and not America, using a quote in which she suggests American school kids want material goods rather than new schools.

In a taped piece, Tompkins asks an assortment of "inner city kids" ("Inner city is code for 'black,' " he notes), and almost all of them opt for a new school instead of an iPod.

"How close is Oprah to Hitler?" Tompkins asks one girl.

"She's kind of getting there," the girl replies.

To take on the Catholic Church, comic Greg Giraldo makes a lot of pederasty jokes that can't be printed in a family newspaper. He generates the biggest laughs when lamenting church bureaucracy, suggesting a reason church leaders opted against a "one strike rule" for pedophile priests: "That's not fair to the guys with a lot of hot kids in their parish. Just move them to a place with uglier kids."

After closing statements, Black renders a verdict on which offending party lives up to the show's title.

Depending on the subjects mocked and viewers' personal sacred cows, "Root of All Evil" won't appeal to everyone on a weekly basis (future episodes include Donald Trump vs. Viagra, Paris Hilton vs. Dick Cheney and Las Vegas vs. the human body), but it is a successful attempt to re-package stand-up comedy for prime time.

'Canterbury's Law'

Female-lead dramas were all the rage on cable last summer, but it's hard to imagine many viewers cozying up to "Canterbury's Law" (8 p.m. Monday, WPGH), a new Fox drama starring Julianna Margulies as a brusque, brittle, law-breaking criminal defense attorney.

The premiere opens with Margulies' Liz Canterbury sleeping with a man who is not her husband (Aidan Quinn). By the end of the over-the-top pilot, she's coached a client to perjure himself and tampered with the jury. She excuses it all with a simple, "I did what I had to do."

In a future episode, after she's indicted for jury tampering, she brushes off the concerns of a client, saying, "Even Clarence Darrow was accused of tampering with the jury. It's like I've arrived."

This being broadcast network TV, Liz's brash exterior belies a more vulnerable side that's been touched by tragedy. (Awwww … )

With her cool demeanor, Margulies is an ideal actress to carry off this icy role. Perhaps in the hands of a more deft writer, "Canterbury's Law" could be the edgy show it aspires to be instead of the common courtroom drama it is.

TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1112. Ask TV questions at post-gazette.com/tv under TV Q&A.


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