HBO's 'Pad' Special Sketches Series Potential

Home Box Office's Sketch Pad
— a potpourri of improvisational comedy skits from troupes from across the U.S. — is a fast-paced and funny, if uneven, half-hour special.

Filmed at Washington's Atlantic Video, the special culls rapid-fire bits from some of the best known improv troupes, including Chicago's The Second City and Los Angeles' The Groundlings, as well as many lesser-known groups.

These improv groups serve as the farm teams of TV comedy: Saturday Night Live
has recruited heavily from their ranks, and SCTV
was a product of The Second City. But the sketches on stage are a little different than what one might see on such TV shows.

Most of them are very short — some as brief as a minute and a half — and there's no attempt to develop recurring characters, or to play off current events, à la SNL. The humor comes instead from the unexpected and ludicrous, as is the case with the opening sketch, Second City's "The Robe."

The gist of the sketch: a man is upset with his wife because she didn't launder his favorite robe in time for the big meeting that night. As she does the laundry in the living room, he emerges from the bedroom in a Klu Klux Klan hood.

But the wife doesn't seem quite so sympathetic to her husband's pleas. She lectures him, "No one is going to care if you look a little different."

Unfortunately, that sketch is just one of two very brief appearances for the Chicago crew, and not all of the featured troupes match their inventiveness.

These are nightclub acts — so naturally, there's a lot of sexually explicit content — though, at times it's too gratuitous. It's almost as if the producers selected vignettes as much for their shock value as their humor.

"Picture Pages" — an ACME Comedy Theater bit in which a woman hires a children's photographer to take "special pictures for her boyfriend" — carries on with its visual joke a bit too long. And "Kung Fu Porn," a short film by Bryan Callen that riffs on exercise infomercials, relies far too much on its most obvious joke.

But these are minor flaws in a special that has some serious series potential — kind of a Reverb
of comedy, only with slightly higher production values. And fans of the old The Kids In the Hall
will particularly enjoy the final act, in which ex-Kids
Dave Foley (NewsRadio) and Kevin McDonald pick up where they left off.

Sketch Pad
premiered Friday, Dec. 7 on HBO and repeats on Dec. 11 and Dec. 16.

Michael Demenchuk

Mike Demenchuk has served as content manager of Broadcasting+Cable and Multichannel News since 2016. After stints as reporter and editor at Adweek, The Bond Buyer and local papers in New Jersey, he joined the staff of Multichannel News in 1999 as assistant managing editor and has served as the cable trade publication's managing editor since 2005. He edits copy and writes headlines for both the print magazine and website, wrangles the occasional e-newsletter and reviews TV shows from time to time. He's also the guy to bother with your guest blog, Fates & Fortunes and Freeze Frame submissions.