We gave it a B
With the arrival of Morton & Hayes, no one can complain that this summer’s TV schedule lacks nerve or intelligence. Rob Reiner has produced and serves as host of this elaborate put-on, which claims to have unearthed long-lost two-reel comedies of a now-forgotten comedy team from the ’30s and ’40s, Chick Morton (Avalon‘s Kevin Pollak) and Eddie Hayes (Bob Amaral). Reiner’s mock-windbag introductions to each short film are shot in color; the comedies themselves are in black and white.
From a technical standpoint, Morton & Hayes is amazing. Co-executive producers Christopher Guest (The Princess Bride) and former SCTV writer Dick Blasucci have done a remarkable, witty job of reproducing not only the soft-edged clarity of old black-and-white films but also the slow pacing and primitive special effects of the era.
The series’ first episode, ”Daffy Dicks,” features our heroes as bumbling detectives hired by a sultry babe who proves to have an evil twin sister; both are played with pixilated perfection by Catherine O’Hara (SCTV; Home Alone). Guest himself appears as her husband, and his and O’Hara’s shrewd performances upstage those of Pollak and Amaral. Morton and Hayes will get a better showcase in a subsequent episode called ”The Bride of Mummula,” a horror-film parody featuring Michael McKean (Grand) as a dead-on cross between Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. Notice a pattern here? Reiner, Guest, and McKean were all part of the classic 1984 rock-documentary spoof This Is Spinal Tap.
Whether or not you’ll find Morton & Hayes funny probably depends on your fondness for two forms of humor that don’t usually mix well: irony and slapstick. A CBS press release compares this fictitious comedy team to Abbott and Costello; another, even more appropriate comparison is to Olsen and Johnson, a truly all-but-forgotten, stars-in-their-own-time team.
Morton & Hayes displays so much more talent, thought, and adventurousness than your average TV comedy that it seems churlish to point out that the show ain’t very funny. The biggest problem is Morton and Hayes; their comic characters aren’t defined or original enough. One minute Amaral’s Hayes is spluttering and gasping like Lou Costello; the next, he’s popping his eyes and squawking feverishly like early Jerry Lewis. Pollak’s Morton is more effective: As the straight man, his model is the jaded, tough-talking Bud Abbott, but Pollak softens the character just enough to make him an interesting boob. B