Keith Olbermann and his Countdown returned to TV on Monday night on Current with an hour loaded with obviousness and an unfortunate amount of fawning on the part of his guests.

Meanwhile, over on Fox and The O’Reilly Factor, the host and Lupe Fiasco engaged in a ludicrous debate over the musician’s characterization of President Obama as “a terrorist.”

Olbermann declared his would be “a program of contextualization”; in one of his “Special Comments,” he excoriated “the malfeasance of one party and the timidity of the other.” So far, so good: Klassic Keith. But what followed was a rather slack version of Countdown, lacking the vigor that usually accompanies Olbermann’s vinegar. On a decently busy news day, his coverage led off with a discussion with Michael Moore about military intervention in Libya that seemed positioned first because… Michael Moore was the biggest name he’d booked. (For the record, Moore is disappointed in the President.) There followed a chat with John Dean about what was arguably the day’s biggest domestic news: the Supreme Court decision in favor of Wal-Mart; it was reduced by Dean to a one-liner: “It’s a Court for people with money.” There was a tepid version of “Worst Persons” (Sarah Palin has trademarked her name for use in, among other things, “educational purposes” — Keith thought it was hilarious to associate “Palin” with “education”; wow, has Olbermann hired Jay Leno as his joke writer?).

Most squirm-inducing was a segment with Markos Moulitsas, the man behind the valuable Daily Kos blog. Unfortunately, Moulitsas was there primarily to talk about why he’d been banned from MSNBC, because, Moulitsas insisted, he’d made some unkind remarks about MSNBC host Joe Scarborough. It was a way for Olbermann to take a shot at his previous employer without saying anything rude about MSNBC himself, and concluded with Moulitsas saying Olbermann is “a national treasure.”

Over on The Factor, O’Reilly spent the first 10 minutes of his show dissecting Jon Stewart’s appearance on Chris Wallace’s Fox News Sunday, then returned to the subject of Stewart again when he had Bernard Goldberg on in the second half-hour. What is it with Olbermann and O’Reilly and the “contextualization” of themselves and the places they work at or have worked for?

O’Reilly engaged in what was billed as a “debate” with Lupe Fiasco, who was quoted recently as saying that the President is a “terrorist” for his foreign policy. Fiasco should have known that if he’d arrived at a position in which Bill O’Reilly was defending Barack Obama, there must be something wrong with his own reasoning.

Fiasco did some clumsy back-pedaling, saying that “terrorist” is just one label to be applied to Obama; “protector” and “a father” are two more. The whole thing would have been silly — Fiasco’s initial remark was foolish; O’Reilly knew he had a straw-man as a debate target — except for a classic moment of O’Reilly condescension. “What you just said was fallacious — that means ‘wrong,'” he told Fiasco.

Perhaps Countdown will find its groove again.

And speaking of groove, Bernie Goldberg should retire the error he persists in making, ascribing the phrase “fish don’t know he’s wet” to a Funkadelic song. I dare ya to name that song in the George Clinton canon, Bernie.

Twitter: @kentucker