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What's On

9/08/2006 8:00 PM Eastern

The Underground

Showtime Thursday, Sept. 14 (10 p.m.)

In the introduction for Showtime’s new sketch-comedy show The Underground, series star Damon Wayans said he would test the pay network’s “No Limits” tagline. Wayans certainly lives up to his claim, at least in the pilot show of the 10-episode series.

The show’s format — several short comedic sketches, intertwined with urban music and dance vignettes — is not too far removed from the popular 1990s Fox variety series In Living Color, which catapulted Wayans to stardom. In fact, Wayans has dubbed Underground as “In Living Color on steroids.” But Wayans’ Underground — at least in the pilot episode — lacks the smart, cutting-edge comedic genius that made In Living Color so successful. It seems Wayans and his ensemble cast of comedians Will Bowles, Mikey Day, Gabrielle Dennis, Josh Flaum, Edi Patterson, Vincent Oshana, Aries Spears and Damon Wayans Jr. set out to shock the senses as much as to tickle the funny bone through several very edgy comedic sketches that turn just about every racial, gender and political stereotype on its head.

Warning to the prudish or thin-skinned: Sketches such as the “The Real Vagina Monologues” (with an image that leaves nothing to the imagination), an Iraqi version of America’s Funniest Home Videos and white executives frequently using the “N” word as they try to “act” black will almost assuredly offend some viewers, while making others laugh out loud. —R. Thomas Umstead

Handy Manny

Disney Channel Saturday, Sept. 16 (10 a.m.)

Disney Channel’s Handy Manny is a sweet, entertaining and somewhat derivative new CG-animated series debuting as part of the preschool-aimed “Playhouse Disney” programming block.

With its Latino main character and the use of Spanish words and phrases in songs and dialogue, the show continues the multicultural tradition of successful series such as Nick Jr.’s Dora the Explorer and Go, Diego, Go! Similarly, its hero, a Mr. Fix-It named Manny Garcia, and his talking tools suggest a slight twist on Bob the Builder and his crew of machines.

But the show holds its own thanks to a colorful visual palette, upbeat Latin-flavored music (including a theme song from the band Los Lobos) and a focus on simple themes such as the importance of helping others and the merits of working together. Voiced by Wilmer Valderrama (That ’70s Show), Manny is a likeable enough hero, though young viewers will probably be more amused by the cast of characters in his toolbox and the inept neighbor Mr. Lopart (Tom “SpongeBob SquarePants” Kenny).

Created by children’s book authors Roger Bollen and Marilyn Sadler (whose Zenon, Girl of the 21st Century, inspired three Disney Channel movies) and co-executive produced by Rick Gitelson (LazyTown, Dragon Tales, Rugrats), Handy Manny may not be a hit of Dora proportions, but should develop a devoted following in the under-7 demo. —George Vernadakis

October