It’s hard to satirize TV on TV effectively and with originality these days. We’ve been the lucky recipients of “30 Rock,” “The Larry Sanders Show,” “Extras,” “Episodes,” and “The Comeback,” all of them so ruthless and knowing when it comes to exposing the TV business in all its duplicity, delusion, idiocy, savagery, condescension, treachery, superficiality, lunacy — OK, I’ll stop now. New comedies about TV face the challenge of distinguishing themselves from the greatness that preceded them — go ahead, add in “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
So it’s no big surprise that the new USA sitcom, “Donny!,” is underwhelming, just like Patrick Stewart’s similar effort, “Blunt Talk,” on Starz. It’s about a Dr. Phil-like talk-show host named Donny who is compassionate onscreen but sloppy and offensive behind the scenes. Played by wealthy ad man and TV personality Donny Deutsch as a crude version of himself, in the manner of Larry David on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Donny lives from hypocritical disaster to hypocritical disaster. In the premiere, Donny consoles a woman on his show whose life was ruined by sexting naked photos of herself. Cut to Donny sexting topless photos of himself. (Inexplicably, Deutsch is topless an inordinate amount in this show.)
In the second episode, Donny does a show on the virtues of older women. He needs to back it up in his real life by dating a woman over 50, something he never does. He finally finds a sneaky compromise: He dates the glamorous Christie Brinkley, who plays a version of herself. No graying grandmother, she.
The edge in the writing on “Donny!” is pretty dull, as it simply restates all the absurd things about the entertainment business that we already know — that celebrities are vain, that some of them use illness and crisis for their own PR benefit, that there’s a massive financial and cultural gap between Hollywood and the real world. The writers try to bring in humor reminiscent of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Seinfeld,” humor that needs to be outstanding to work; they fail. For instance, a gag in the second episode has Donny spouting off about how women need to groom their pubic area carefully but men don’t. His staff — all women — criticize him for being a “pubic hypocrite,” and later Brinkley criticizes Donny’s manscaping. As David might say, the joke is pretty, pretty lame. It doesn’t help that the lousy material is surrounded by product placement that tries to be clever and meta, but instead comes off as insulting.
Donny isn’t a particularly interesting character on the show, and Deutsch — who uses his own dazzling New York townhouse on the show — never quite rises above the material. On “Blunt Talk,” Stewart is a force to be reckoned with, even when the lines are mediocre. But Deutsch doesn’t have that kind of charisma. His show comes off as little more than a vanity project, an awkward effort to show off.
Starring Donny Deutsch, Emily Tarver, Meera Rohit Kumbhani, Jessica Renee Russell, Tina Casciani.
On USA. Tuesday, 10:30-11 p.m.