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Dilbert: A Specter of Doom

by Terrence Briggs

© United Feature Syndicate.

Forget about my rant on the WB! in my Batman Beyond review; UPN's got it much worse. While teenybopper products like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson's Creek continue to swell the WB audience exponentially, UPN hasn't seen much action since the Voyager premiere. Somewhere beyond Desmond Pfeiffer is UPN oblivion, one of those uncharted sectors of the Star Trek universe that would make a great spin-off.

I'll admit, it's hard to imagine Dilbert as a looming specter of doom, but that's pretty much what it is to UPN. It's not because Dilbert is bad, (in fact, the unpolished pilot submitted to me was actually quite good), but because if Dilbert is in any way a failure, it'll mean the practical end of UPN as a free television network.

More on the Prophecy of Doom later...

For the uninitiated, Dilbert is the mouth-less corporate everyman who just happens to rule the priceless 25-44 demographic in comic polls. In his office, he's sandwiched and surrounded by incompetence, and at home he's tormented by the intellectual superiority of his mother (Dilmom) and dog (Dogbert).

In the pilot, the company's computer network is backlogged due to the excessive number of resumes being printed; the company's flagship product wiped out an entire town ("I told them at the meeting that anthrax was a bacteria, not an herb.") and now a new flagship product is needed. Dilbert's pointy-haired boss, in his infinite wisdom, wants the name of the product taken care of first.

"If you don't know something's name, how do you know what to build?" All the good names are already taken by competent companies, so their choices are limited to Greek names, diseases and bodily secretions. There isn't much on which to judge the series based on the pilot; the sole episode provided has many unfinished scenes. (Memo to UPN: Why only send one episode? Contrary to popular belief, TV critics aren't as judgmental as the general public.)

By airtime, the cutting-room staff will hopefully have removed all elements of the ridiculous "chicken-man" thread; 300-pound sandbags of jokes which just bring the comic pacing to a screeching halt. It's far from important to the truly funny bits of the story anyway -- the well-handled ineptitude of Dilbert's co-workers and the always acerbic Dogbert, who's about a .001 on the pH scale and a real trump card.

A few other elements could stand tidying as well. At least a couple of scenes (such as the show's prologue involving a voice-controlled shower) seem to reach too far for gags with otherwise fine payoffs. (It's not hard to convince someone to unconsciously say "14" and "2001," but the set-up for the gags are too long.)

Suddenly Susan's Kathy Griffin brings a familiar delivery to her role as Alice, but there is too little range in her performance to make her dialogue work. One of Dilbert's associates is just loud; he's simply not obnoxious enough to sell his presence. Plus, the timing of the visual reactions from others are strangely late. Maybe the animators at Yeson thought the abstract visualization would be enough. Hopefully director Seth Kearsley (Mummies Alive!) will have more input in the final product.

For now, the unfinished product is verbally sharp, visually uninvolving, and definitely in need of refinement. What's here is certainly more promising than the debuts to The Simpsons and King of the Hill, and that's good, even though the standards for both of these shows have been raised since then. For UPN and its great prophecy however, that's not good enough.

Terrence Briggs, all-purpose animation fan, is more than happy to receive comments from readers on his work.

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