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Don't let laugh track fool you; nothing funny to see here

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The cast of CTV's newest Canadian sitcom pose in this publicity shot.
Back (from left), Paul Campbell, Rebecca Dalton, Dave Foley, Al Mukadan, J.P. Manoux; front (from left), Holly Deveaux, Darcy Michael.

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The cast of CTV's newest Canadian sitcom pose in this publicity shot. Back (from left), Paul Campbell, Rebecca Dalton, Dave Foley, Al Mukadan, J.P. Manoux; front (from left), Holly Deveaux, Darcy Michael.

There is, sadly, no way to spin this into a good-news story.

The arrival this week of CTV's newest homegrown sitcom property is bound to become a public-relations nightmare, which is ironic, because the woefully bad Spun Out takes place inside a fictional PR firm, supposedly the best at what it does.

Simply put, there isn't an image-makeover guru, public-opinion manipulator or crisis-management expert, real or fictional, who could effectively sell Spun Out as anything other than a painfully unfunny show that wastes the talents of its actors and insults the intelligence of its sure-to-be-minuscule audience.

It was only a decade ago -- Jan. 22, 2004, to be precise -- that CTV unveiled Corner Gas, ushering in an era of optimism that we Canadians had finally, after decades of failed attempts, finally figured out how to make a genuinely funny TV sitcom.

Corner Gas was brilliant and hugely popular. Since it hung up its pump for the last time in 2009, CTV has continued to develop comedy series, with results that might best be described as mixed.

Robson Arms was another positive step. Hiccups, the followup from Corner Gas's Brent Butt and Nancy Robertson, was sporadically funny and survived just a couple of seasons; another Gas alumnus, Fred Ewanuick, lasted a similarly short time in the uneven comedy Dan for Mayor.

But at least those shows seemed as if they were making an earnest effort. Spun Out feels like a time-warped mistake that transports viewers back to the era of laughless losers like The Trouble With Tracy and Check It Out!.

Spun Out, which is being given a two-night première, is an exceedingly traditional multi-camera, studio-shot comedy set inside the offices of DLPR, a public-relations firm owned and operated by spin wizard Dave Lyons (Kids in the Hall original Dave Foley).

The office is populated by a predictable roster of sitcom stereotypes -- sharp-dressed fast-talker Nelson Abrams (Al Mukadam), whiny, do-nothing underling Gordon Woolmer (Darcy Michael), fastidious, fanny-pack-wearing assistant Bryce McBradden (J.P. Manoux) and pretty but possibly dim boss's daughter Stephanie Lyons (Rebecca Dalton).

Entering the fray is newly hired account exec Beckett Ryan (Paul Campbell), who immediately says and does all the wrong things but somehow manages to endear himself to his co-workers. Actually, the relationship math is simple: he's an idiot, and he fits in nicely with all these other idiots.

Which is, of course, one of the main structural failings in Spun Out's design -- the characters in any sitcom are always variously wacky and weird, but there has to be some credible suggestion that they might be able to function in their environment.

Spun Out's central core is so broadly drawn that viewers will likely dismiss them as simply too stupid to watch. And there's no way the company that employs them could be, in any real or imagined world, the most powerful PR firm in the country.

It employs the expected setup/punchline blueprint for sitcom conversation, with the notable departure here being that none of the jokes are even remotely funny -- regardless of what the show's over-amped laugh track would have you believe.

There's a simple formula to use when assessing a TV comedy: the louder the laugh track, the less funny the show. And Spun Out's canned-yuks machine has been turned -- as Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnel might say -- "up to 11."

In this case, the laugh track isn't just overbearing; it's actually dishonest. It's trying to convince viewers to laugh along when there's nothing vaguely amusing going on.

In the three episodes provided for preview by CTV, there is not one genuinely laugh-producing moment.

Foley deserves better. His supporting players deserve better. Viewers deserve better. The legacy of Corner Gas demands so much more.

Spun Out is a huge step backward for Canadian TV comedy.

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 5, 2014 C3

History

Updated on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 9:38 AM CST: Replaces photo

9:52 AM: Adds video

11:53 AM: Removes video

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