Wanda Sykes is terrific: at ease and bawdy; The Wanda Sykes Show is awkward: self-conscious and constrained.
At least, that's what last night's premiere episode was like. Sykes delivered a scattershot, eight-minute opening monologue that tried to establish her rebel credentials by attacking the network on which she appears: "Let me be the first person on Fox not to pick on President Obama." (Intentionally confusing the Fox entertainment network with the Fox News Channel didn't help the weakness of the joke.)
A lot of pro-Obama jokes followed, which fit the definition of the cliche, "preaching to the choir": her studio audience clapped dutifully at every slap at targets like Rush Limbaugh and George W. Bush, but they didn't really laugh very hard. Sykes also made the mistake that The Jay Leno Show does too frequently: illustrating punchlines with big pictures behind the comedian. That's just beating an already-dead horse.
Speaking of horse cliches, Sykes did an out-of-the-studio sketch about buying environmentally-sound sex-toys. Sykes invented a "solar-powered vibrator" and "reuseable condoms," saying, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him use a reuseable condom."
The final segment was a panel of guests consisting of 24's Mary Lynn Rajskub, Brothers' Daryl "Chill" Mitchell, and Amazing Race host Phil Keoghan. Unlike Bill Maher or Chelsea Handler's similar panels, these guests were permitted to sip alcoholic beverages, but the martinis and wine did help the quality of the humor. Ostensibly playing off events in the news, topics included rich people using their wealth to travel in outer space. Mitchell's comment was that if he had that kind of money, he wouldn't leave Earth's orbit, he'd "spend it on weed and hookers."
One should never count out Wanda Sykes; she's too talented. But she's got to get away from the way her monologue looks (so choppily edited) and sounds (even if that was real laughter, some of it sounded "enhanced" with some of the canned stuff). And find better topics for her boozy panel discussions. A debate on "Is screaming the new spanking?" just won't cut it at 11 p.m. on Saturday nights.