Thursday, July 8, 2004

'Crossballs' combines fake and real

By Ted Anthony
The Associated Press

Pity Corey Williams. The actor is on a contentious talk show, sparring with a guy who practices for reality TV by eating cow patties, another who's begging to get on air and a professor who thinks the Next Big Show is a "real-life Hogan's Heroes" set in a concentration camp run by neo-Nazis.

But while Williams believes he's debating real people, he's ostensibly been ensnared in an elaborate web of deceit and in-your-face rhetoric - as if Bill O'Reilly had done Candid Camera.

In the genre-bending and often hilarious Crossballs, which premiered Tuesday for an eight-week run on Comedy Central, the real is the fake, the fake is the real - and nobody knows which end is up.

Crossballs addresses this, hovering on the razor edge of plausibility (and, this being cable, body-function crudeness). As the show puts it: "Comedians posing as experts ... debating real people who don't know the show is fake."

Its talk-show format - "Out of the Crossfire. Beyond Hardball," as the announcer intones - says it pits real guests recruited to debate real issues against improv actors portraying other "real" guests with audacious, often obnoxious opinions. The shows end without the con being revealed to the dupes, and a little nagging doubt remains - even for viewers.

Host Chris Tallman, with an appealing combination of John Goodman's bluster and Albert Brooks' manic disbelief in the world around him, acts as the linchpin, moderating between his fake guests and the real ones and making sure no one can elaborate too much on an idea.

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