Fox's new late-night entry "Party Over Here" has instantly established itself amid the deluge of comedian-driven shows — it's the only late-night sketch show with an all-female cast.
And this cast certainly isn't ready for prime time. There's no shortage of raunch.
Led by newcomers Nicole Byer, Alison Rich and Jessica McKenna — who all performed together at the Upright Citizens Brigade theaters in New York and L.A. — the show delights in skewering the perception of women in today's culture.
In one sketch, the trio turn an excruciating poop joke into a not-so-subtle comment on female desperation to please all-male bosses, in this case the show's actual executive producers and creators, the Lonely Island comedy troupe headed by Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone.
In other sketches, they take aim at the special kind of sexual humiliation reserved for women, à la "The Bachelor," overtly amorous yogurt commercials, those inane Disney princess story lines and, yes, "mansplaining." McKenna even raps about the ambivalence inherent in the word "blouse."
When the series premiered on Saturday, the influences were clear. There's a straight line from the raunchy stylings of Amy Schumer and the "Saturday Night Live" weirdos of Kristen Wiig to the Upright Citizens Brigade alumnae.
But ask the trio about where their show fits into the recent rise of women in comedy and you'll get an earful.
"I hate that we have to keep talking about it," said Byer, recently, waiting to take the stage with her costars at Hollywood's Upright Citizens Brigade theater. "Let's just let funny people be funny. I hate that there's such an emphasis on women in comedy. Are women OK? Are they just as funny as men? Yes! It's answered! Let's stop it!"
The series is a low-budget experiment with a genre that's lured online audiences to TV for years. Sandwiched between local news and Fox's new man-boy comedy "Cooper Barrett's Guide to Surviving Life," it marks the network's first venture into the genre since its Emmy-winning "MadTV" bowed in 2009.
"Party Over Here" is shot, in part, in front of a live audience at downtown L.A.'s Alexandria Hotel and aims to harness that electric feel to bridge the gap between online audiences and TV. Each sketch, whether live or taped, is structured in bite-size bits that go down easy on the Internet. The laughs come fast in 90-second sketches crafted for swift consumption via YouTube.
"The Internet in some ways is a superior way to consume comedy," said Nick Wiger, "Party Over Here's" head writer.
With its emphasis on audience response, the show is also a bit of a high-wire act — much more than the relatively safe approach of veteran "Saturday Night Live."
"There's no cue cards," said show co-creator Paul Scheer, another Upright Citizens Brigade alum who costars on FX's sports comedy "The League." "We go off-book a lot. We react to the audience. We let ourselves get surprised by a moment, which I feel is very rare on TV. That's gotten us in a lot of trouble with Standards & Practices with what we can and cannot do. But I'd rather have that than the show being this tightly structured thing that there's no deviating from."
The foundation of much of the humor is raw and outrageous. In one live sketch, Byer plays a heartbroken and psychotic ex-girlfriend whose BFFs played by McKenna and Rich shrug off her "Fatal Attraction" antics in the name of "sisters before misters."
Byer describes killing her ex's cat, having sex with random strangers, swallowing his car keys and pooping them out, among other things, while her girlfriends nod sympathetically.
The show's offbeat approach may be the key to success. After all, sketch comedy has proved to be a boon to cable networks, driving audiences from viral snippets online to the TV. IFC's "Portlandia" famously drew attention to its 2011 premiere with its music video, "The Dream of the Nineties Is Alive in Portland." Key & Peele, alums of "MadTV," went viral with "Obama's Anger Translator" YouTube videos just as they launched their Comedy Central show in 2012. And Amy Schumer's astute and star-studded "12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer" sketch catapulted her career last year.
In the case of "Party Over Here," the Lonely Island was recruited by Fox late last year to fill an otherwise dead time slot: 11-11:30 p.m. Saturdays. They, in turn, recruited "The League's" Scheer to be the show's comedic overlord. Together, they decided to showcase the female trio.
The show's March 12 debut got hammered by critics. But the producers and cast have confidence that there is a fan base that will respond to their unique presentation.
"Every episode is going to be broken apart [and] doled out somewhere," said Scheer. "That's the way we're planning on building our audiences. Zero publicity. No talk shows. No billboards. Just Facebook. YouTube. The only thing we have is our work."
'Party Over Here'
When: 11 p.m. Saturdays
Rating: TV-14-DLSV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language, sex and violence)
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