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PBS lightens up with As the Wrench Turns July 14, 2008

Posted by Ted in : 30 Rock, PBS, Reviews , trackback



If you’re like me, you have listened to Car Talk on NPR (National Public Radio) for years now and learned very little about cars in the process. Continuing their long tradition of putting entertainment ahead of useful information, Car Talk hosts Tom and Ray Magliozzi unveiled their new animated show on PBS last week, called As the Wrench Turns. The show is not, as I had at first assumed, merely a cartoon version of the Car Talk radio show. It’s actually a cartoon sitcom about what goes on behind the scenes at their radio show. I found the two debut episodes to be highly entertaining (PBS shows two episodes back to back on Wednesday nights). Stylistically it borrows a lot from network primetime cartoons such as The Simpsons and Family Guy, with rapid fire humor and satirical jabs at society and culture. The lighthearted spirit of the NPR radio show is faithfully reproduced on As the Wrench Turns, possibly due in part to the fact that Car Talk’s long time producer Doug Berman is also Wrench’s head writer.

The characters of the show include Click and Clack, which are voiced by their real life counterparts, Tom and Ray, along with the staff of their fictitious headquarters, long known to fans of the radio show as Car Talk Plaza. In addition to their radio show, C&C also run an on-premises auto repair shop. The first episode, “Campaign”, features Click and Clack plotting to run jointly for the office of U.S. president in order to supplement their failing NPR fund drive with campaign donations. They acquire the services of a political consultant named Jimmy, who bears a striking resemblance to James Carville. In spite of his expertise, they repeatedly botch all their campaign speeches, and end up getting zero votes on election night. Jimmy comes through with the required five million dollars for the fund drive at the last minute, donated by special interest groups in exchange for C&C’s promise to stay out of politics. In terms of pushing the boundaries of political correctness, the second episode, “Outsourcing”, gives Family Guy a run for its money. In this episode, the Bostonian brothers endeavor to make their lives easier by outsourcing their radio program to India. They discover that established radio shows such as Rush Limbaugh, Prairie Home Companion, and Howard Stern have all been outsourced, and utilize India-based sound alike radio hosts. The final scene is truly distasteful but hilarious, and involves the effects of Indian water on the human digestive system.

As the Wrench Turns is probably not as funny as The Simpsons was in its 90’s heyday, but it’s infinitely funnier than 30 Rock, and proves that making a show about a show is not necessarily an exercise in futility. It is a welcome addition to PBS’s pantheon of greatness, and adds a much needed dose of mid-brow irreverence to the more serious programming such as Frontline, Nova, and Washington Week. I’m hoping this show lasts longer than the list of production credits on Car Talk.

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