If a doctor gives you only 30 minutes to live, do yourself a favor and watch Frank TV…because it’ll feel like a lifetime.
One can’t help but marvel at star, Frank Caliendo’s spot-on imitations, and in the next breath wonder how it’s wasted in his sophomore effort of Tuesday night’s debut. Standing in front of the audience, looking dull and wooden without another celebrity’s voice spewing forth from his lips, Caliendo introduces lame sketch after lame sketch while watching himself on a big screen.
Painfully dull set-ups include a dated movie send-up of Oliver Stone’s W., only this one with Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky and Al Gore. Here Caliendo performs both Clinton and Gore leaving the audience watching like a video Highlights magazine — to circle the joke. As the show progresses, Caliendo serves up equally lame sketches featuring impressions of David Letterman, Yoda, and not-so-spot-on John McCain.
What Caliendo fails to understand, it seems, is an impression is only as good as the context in which it’s performed; otherwise, the illusion quickly dissipates. No one does a better George W. Bush impression, but why is it Will Ferrell’s take is far more memorable? Because Will’s “George” is joke first, voice second.
Caliendo’s career seems irreducibly similar to the father of all mimics, Rich Little, who also had a short-lived variety series of his own in the late ’70s. Like Caliendo, Rich’s impressions were always dead-on, but the comedy was always lackluster. A perennial guest host on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, when Little’s popularity began to wane, so did his Tonight Show gig. One day, they just stopped calling — leaving Little completely confounded by the reason.
There’s no doubt Caliendo has an incredible gift, but there’s only so many times a spot on John Madden, Jack Nicholson, or Al Pacino can pull you through a lame sketch. The writers seem to lean too much on his ability to mimic rather than devising clever material to help him sail through. When he’s faced with characters that are less-than-stellar quality, like McCain or Gore, Caliendo’s especially lost; it’s almost as if he can’t wait to break back into his greatest hits (which we get to watch each week, again and again) only serving to cheapen his talents.
In the age of YouTube and viral video, clips of Saturday Night Live sketches are seen all over the world, often within hours of the original broadcast. Frank TV could only hope for that relevance and staying power. No one will ever take away Caliendo’s ability, but if he doesn’t rise above the comedy curve soon, he may just find himself playing the same gigs of his mentor: Harrah’s Laughlin through October 30th.