Norman Lear John J. O'Connor - Essay

John J. O'Connor

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

There is hardly anything new about satirizing talk shows. In some cases, the form almost satirizes itself, and it has long been the butt of comedy routines, from "Laugh In" to "Monty Python's Flying Circus." But "Fernwood 2-Night" goes beyond the talk-show form to ridicule contemporary convictions and foibles in a wide range of aspects. Anti-Semitism and religious deprogramming have little or nothing to do with talk shows, but they have been put to extremely clever use on "Fernwood 2-Night."

The concept of a fictional talk show may contain its own self-destruct mechanism. The form itself is limited, and the pressures to be outrageous can only escalate. Where do you go after you've given them a pianist in an iron lung?…

There is a little something to offend just about everybody. There may also be a bit too much cruelty, too much smug adolescent superiority to sustain the humor for very long. But in this opening week of "Fernwood 2-Night," only the certifiably enbalmed will fail to laugh out loud several times along the outrageous way.

John J. O'Connor, "TV: 'Fernwood 2-Night' a Little 2 Much," in The New York Times (© 1977 by The New York Times Company: reprinted by permission), July 6, 1977, p. 19.