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ABC's Gong Show re-do recaptures the Barris essentials


Mike Myers in heavy makeup as host “Tommy Maitland.” ABC photo

Premiering: Thursday, June 22nd at 9 p.m. (central) on ABC
Hosted by: Tommy Maitland a k a Mike Myers
Produced by: Will Arnett

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Welcome all cheeky monkeys, and hairy apes as well, to ABC’s very live-wire remake of The Gong Show.

It instantly has more star power than the network’s upcoming second coming of Battle of the Network Stars, with judges Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis and Ken Jeong populating Thursday’s one-hour premiere while Mike Myers covers himself in padding and heavy makeup as host “Tommy Maitland.”

Yes, that’s him, even though ABC and executive producer Arnett still aren’t officially copping to anything. Their rather elaborate ruse includes the network’s detailed “biography” of Maitland, who purportedly toiled as an announcer for the British radio show The Whosey Whats before starring in TV’s The Lord Mayor. He also fronted two James Bond “knockoffs’’ -- You Only Live Once, To Be Honest and From Russia, Luv -- and hosted game shows ranging from Tell You What to Dingo’s Got the Baby.

More to the point, one of Myers’ characters on Saturday Night Live, a bathtub-bound British boy named Simon, regularly deployed the tagline “cheeky monkey.” Which is how Maitland begins the show after bounding onstage in a black tux and matching beret.

“All right then, who’s a cheeky monkey?” he immediately asks.

“You are!” the audience exclaims.

“No, you are,” Maitland rejoins. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll kiss your brains goodbye -- but happily so, methinks.

A generation and a half have passed since the late Chuck Barris, who died in March at age 87, hosted the original Gong Show from 1976 to 1980. It was a menagerie of mostly horrid or garish acts, with judges putting many of them out of everyone’s misery by striking a plus-sized gong. Those that survived were given scores from 0 to 10, with the eventual high scorer receiving a marginal check (up to $716.32) by the end plus a “Golden Gong” trophy. Gene-Gene the Dancing Machine would occasionally pop in to send Barris and the crowd into a well-practiced frenzy.

The ABC version does not lack for energy or oddities, beginning with The Uni-Piper. He’s a guy in a gorilla suit riding a tricycle and playing flame-spouting bagpipes before his big finish. “I was almost entertained like, too much,” Jeong says.

Maitland provides his own rim shots with a steady beat of one-liners and throwaways.

Arnett, who as executive producer doubles as the show’s boss man, is initially told, “You’re a God that walks as man.” And for the mid-show re-introductions: “You’re like a love puppy and I want to eat you all the way to the stick.”

Less effective is “Well, yank my doodle, that was a dandy.” But who among us can stifle a grin at the pure absurdity of Maitland telling Jeong, “Get this man a cup of tea and a good crop-dusting.” He also shares the trivia that “Galifianakis is Greek for munchies.”

The new Gong Show set is a suitably gaudy mix of reds and oranges, Which proves to be perfect for Married with Bananas (don’t ask) and Uncle Clutch, a fright mask-wearing slayer whose thorough commitment to character is quite hilarious.

Who knows whether enough viewers will buy in to make this a summertime success? ABC initially appeared to have a sure winner with the Alec Baldwin-hosted Match Game. But the ratings have been basically subterranean (perhaps due to the sometimes painfully bawdy content), and its chances for a Season 3 renewal seem iffy.

Some might bail on the new Gong Show while a young woman plays “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on the harmonica with help from a live tarantula named Midas -- who gets popped into her mouth. But then you’d miss out on the impressive rope trickster Buddy Lee and a diva who passionately belts out her operatic love for Arnett.

“I think it resonated with a lot of people in these dark times,” he deadpans.

So yes, I am entertained. Then again, you’re reading the writings of a guy whose alter ego is Uncle Barky, a former child star who later became so desperate for work that he teamed with Maitland in the short-lived Welsh sitcom “Your Fly’s Open But There’s Really Nothing to Hide.”

Enjoy the show!


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net