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Michael & Michael Are Canceled

Nick Anderson | Thursday, March 4, 2010

One of the fall back defenses to being unpopular is the tale of the misunderstood genius. Luminaries such as El Greco, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Alfred Wegener were widely unappreciated before their respective deaths but are well-respected today. While it’s a great, if fantastical, comfort for those struggling to make it, the simple fact remains most unpopular art is just plain bad. For every Van Gogh, there are 1,000 artists willing to paint a vaguely familiar landscape, portrait or still life.
With that in mind, after months of speculation, it was announced yesterday that Comedy Central’s “Michael and Michael Have Issues” was canceled. The short-lived series was the latest vehicle for the perpetually comedic minds of Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter. It is also the latest piece of theirs canceled before its third season.
Both comedians cut their teeth in their mid-20s on the MTV show “The State.” Back when MTV was still playing music videos, “The State” was the best sketch comedy on the air, bridging the gap between Saturday Night Live’s fall from grace and HBO’s equally uproarious “Mr. Show.” Never truly appreciated in its time, “The State” found a cult following and, 15 years later, a long-awaited DVD release. Rumors of a full-length film have been persistent, but so far unfounded. Many of the show’s alumni have gone on to successful Hollywood or standup careers, including Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon and Ken Marino. None are exactly household names, but most are recognizable character actors. Black and Showalter ended up in the same situation as their costars.
Following “The State,” both Showalter and Black went on to star in their most successful enterprise to date, the 2001 movie “Wet Hot American Summer.” The movie again found a cult audience  — noticing a theme? The smart meta-commentary on 1980s teen comedies was directed by David Wain, a frequent collaborator with the Michaels. Again, it was a classic example of a film being critically acclaimed but ignored at the box office.  
Four years later, Black, Showalter and Wain, with the support of Comedy Central, embarked on a promising partnership. Comedy Central, still searching for success in the vein of Chappelle’s Show, was airing pilots from any promising comedians they could find. From this caviler dissemination of money sprung the creative pinnacle of Black, Showalter and Wain’s career: “Stella.” It was a magnificent mixture of satire, wit, absurdity and dumb humor, often featuring famous guest stars and fake mustaches. The show lasted one short, 10-episode season but inspired a sold-out nationwide tour. Perhaps most insultingly, “Mind of Mencia” replaced the show.
Showalter and Black left television for a while but returned last year, again on Comedy Central. Their show, “Michael and Michael Have Issues,” was a hybrid sketch show and sitcom about its two title characters, both loosely based on their own personalities, trying to make a sketch show. (They say write what you know.)
The duo lost some of its sensibility with Wain’s departure, and the show dragged at times, but its glimpses of comedic gold showed promise. Seven episodes in, Comedy Central halted production, finally canceling the show months later. A DVD release with strong sales is expected, but not strong enough to ultimately bring the show back.
While consistently funny, Black and Showalter have a remarkable record of turning out failed products. Make no mistake, both make excessively comfortable livings, but it’s hard to not feel bad for two intelligent comedians putting out excellent material only to see it canceled, especially in a world where “Two and a Half Men” is the top-rated comedy on TV. So please, whatever their next efforts, be it on stage, screen, or TV, buy a ticket or tune in and support the Michaels.