I knew I was onto something in wanting to write about The Jenny McCarthy Show when the very mention of McCarthy’s name in recent conversations elicited numerous groans and hostile mumbles. The negative vibes that McCarthy elicits are commonplace, and not all that unreasonable. She has been, after all, America’s Official Bimbo for a couple of years now, an unusually long reign in a position whose public-opinion trajectory is traditionally characterized by intense adoration quickly followed by the contempt we still reserve for attractive women, even in these post-enlightened times.
This is too bad, because, headed up by virtually anyone else, The Jenny McCarthy Show would, I’m convinced, be garnering admiring reviews for its quick-witted ensemble cast and a strikingly female-centered approach to adolescent vulgarity. All of which proves to be satisfyingly ruder than you’d expect from a starlet who has often stated that her idol is Lucille Ball.
Basically 30 minutes of sketches-plus-musical-guest decorated with a campy theme song sung by Suzanne Somers, The Jenny McCarthy Show expands our knowledge of the ultra-party-girl cohost of MTV’s Singled Out. We knew that McCarthy likes to endlessly explode her Playboy-centerfold image by contorting her face and babbling like a lunatic; now we also know that she’s obsessed with picking her nose and smelling her armpits. Add these fresh insights to the current Jenny-on-a-toilet print ad campaign for Candie’s shoes and, hey, does this girl have range, or what?
McCarthy understands that acting like one of the guys while looking like the be-yooty-fullest girl is the key to her appeal, and she exploits herself cannily. On the show’s first episode, she earned my guffaws playing an office worker worshiped by a mailroom guy. Instead of setting up the unsavory fellow as the creep, the twist is that McCarthy’s character loves his obsession, to the point of erecting a shrine to him.
The best thing about McCarthy’s show is her boundless enthusiasm for making herself look like a jerk. But a strong, assertive jerk. She dealt forthrightly with the phenomenon of her upper-body dimensions by having a gaggle of Muppet-like puppets stare at her chest for a whole segment. And I loved the bit in which, repelled by her boyfriend’s open-mouthed eating habits in a posh restaurant, Jenny turns into a venomous monster, frothingly mad with rage at her slobbo boy toy. I’m not saying The Jenny McCarthy Show is Seinfeld-good — a sketch showing Her Bimbo-ness vomiting up her lunch on a table and then poking through it served as a bracing reminder that this kid could use somebody who’ll tell her when she’s, ah, blowing it. But this show is already superior to a previous, overrated MTV effort, The State. And McCarthy features an ensemble cast that could give Saturday Night Live a jolt. (Special kudos to Michael Loprete for his wicked skewering of SNL alum Adam Sandler.)
McCarthy parlayed her Singled Out success not just into this MTV project, but also into a sitcom contract with top-rated NBC, in the hopes of becoming what neither Brooke Shields nor Tea Leoni has proved to be — a looker who gets laughs. NBC’s gamble won’t play out until the fall, at which time it’s entirely possible that sick-of-Jenny-mania will have reached critical mass. While I’m always delighted when one of the major networks screws up by jumping on a trend too late, I do hope McCarthy gets a fair chance to find out whether there’s life after babedom.