Several black activist organizations have protested the airing of The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer (UPN, Mondays 9-9:30 p.m.) — enough so that UPN is pulling the pilot to consider those complaints. The groups decry the sitcom, about a black British nobleman who is Abraham Lincoln’s valet, as demeaning to blacks as well as for making jokes about slavery. In fact, Pfeiffer, as played by Chi McBride, speaks more articulately than any other character on the show, always behaves more maturely and intelligently than anyone else around him, and is himself waited upon by what one script calls ”his white inbred manservant” (played with skin-crawlingly convincing cretinousness by Max Baker).
Which is not to say that Desmond is not in poor taste (which, in fact, is astounding even by the current standards of Zippergate). Its Lincoln, played by Law & Order’s Dann Florek, is a priapic fool who in the first two episodes lusts equally after women and men, divulges a foot fetish, and in what is now the premiere, engages in ”telegraph sex,” a sort of Civil War version of our online kind. ”The executive branch” is deployed as a euphemism for the President’s penis, and Desmond says in disgust, ”You’re acting no better than a horny hillbilly from Arkansas.”
The organizing jokes of the series involve not race, but sex and politics; Lincoln equals Bill Clinton, a sure sign the show’s writers don’t expect to be around more than a season, tops. As such, the series has a sort of exhilaratingly go-for-broke atmosphere. In traducing the presidency and treating everyone — excluding Pfeiffer — as an amoral boob (Gen. Ulysses S. Grant is a swozzled egomaniac sending troops off to be slaughtered; Thomas Jefferson is cited only as a sleazy dope farmer), it is far more offensive than South Park. But it is also far funnier in its raucous slapstick. Coarsely energetic, there is something almost Rabelaisian about the vulgarity of Desmond Pfeiffer. It is doing for TV what Howard Stern could only boast he would do. B-