A few months back, Tom Green appeared in yet another wretched teen comedy, and I lamented the sorry state of his career. I expressed hope that Green would soon get back to where he belonged—the TV screen, where he'd become a star by doing hilariously awful things with dead animals and vomit and everything else that proper grown-ups want nothing to do with. I got my wish, after a fashion. MTV recently debuted The New Tom Green Show, a program that manages simultaneously to give me exactly what I'd hoped for and exactly what I'd most feared.
Green's original MTV show suggested comparisons to such brash innovators as Ernie Kovacs, Andy Kaufman and the early David Letterman, and probably Andy Warhol, too. While it can be easy to mistake Green's antics for mere spazzery of the Carrot Top school, catch a few episodes of his original series and you'll realize Green's no idiot. He's a surrealist of the old school, the sort of merry media prankster we need right now. Other critics disagreed, arguing that, left unchecked, Green's brand of comedy would bring about the end of the world; his fans, of course, could only look at such headlines and think: Well, yes, isn't that sort of the point?
Things typically do not end well for televisual innovators of Green's stripe; if they don't die young (à la Kaufman and Kovacs), they eventually transform into the men who host celebrity roasts and open the show with a few gags about golf and J-Lo's butt; they become the kind of smug old fart they once mocked, the smug old farts whom it is the duty of subsequent generations to overthrow. Steve Allen had long since completed this evolution by the time I came along, but I'm old enough to have witnessed Letterman's slow decline, and it was a tragic spectacle indeed.
With The New Tom Green Show, Green appears to be making his bid for smug old fartdom before he's completely managed to work the angry Young Turk out of this system. He's like the class clown trying to do well on his first "real" job, showing up on time in a suit and tie and keeping the mischief to a minimum, but unable to resist occasionally blowing up one of the office toilets. On the one hand, Green begins the new show with a tired monologue, conducts a few tired celebrity interviews and generally does no better or worse at any of it than Craig Kilborn, Conan O'Brien or any of the other guys who've tried to work the Letterman mojo over the past couple of decades. But mixed in with all this we still find bits of inspired shock comedy; Green is still more than willing to vomit for the sake of a laugh, and he slams his head against the walls of his set with a gusto that Letterman wouldn't have managed in his prime. We are also still treated to the ritualistic humiliations of Green's priceless sidekick, Glenn Humplik, a doughy young mensch who cheerfully endures Christlike suffering on a nightly basis. There's enough of the old Tom Green Show in The New Tom Green Show to keep you watching, but when Green picked up the severed head of a deer by the roadside, as he did on a recent episode, and solemnly announced that it was the last time that he would ever employ a dead animal in his comedy, more than a few of his fans shed a bitter tear. It was the end of the world as we knew it.
The New Tom Green Show airs weekday nights at midnight on MTV.