Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Geek Love

By Devin D. O'Leary

JANUARY 25, 1999:  UPN has traveled a rocky road this season. Originally, the fledgling network made its mark by appealing to largely urban audiences with a slate of African-American-themed sitcoms. Having established itself with black audiences, the weblet decided to expand its viewership to mainstream America. By packing their sched with sci-fi shows ("Mercy Point," "Seven Days," "The Way Out Movie"), UPN hoped to broaden its appeal. ... Didn't happen. UPN's numbers took a nosedive across the country. (Although, to be fair, every broadcast network went down in ratings this past season.) Now that it's midseason, UPN is hoping to halt its viewer hemorrhage with some big gun reinforcements. Come Monday night, network execs will be crossing their fingers that a cartoon nerd in a funny tie can win them big ratings success. From the looks of things, they've got a breakout hit on their hands.

"Dilbert" is based on the ridiculously popular comic strip from Scott Adams about a hapless computer engineer. I'm sure there's some sort of ironic message in the fact that stifling office cubicles all across America are adorned with little "Dilbert" strips joking about stifling office cubicles. I'll leave it to Norman Solomon and other pundits to contemplate that one. All I can say is it makes me laugh sometimes. If the first episode of UPN's animated version is any indication, then there are plenty more laughs on the way.

In turning the comic strip into an animated series, producers have opened up the premise quite a bit. Although there are a few jokes stolen from the daily strip, the show doesn't feel like a choppy collection of three-panel jokes strung together. Instead of sticking to the rather limited computer-oriented jokes in the daily strip, Dilbert now finds himself working for a company that manufactures all sorts of questionable products (like an "all natural" anthrax-based throat lozenge). The initial plot features an exasperated Dilbert trying to come up with a name for a product that hasn't been invented yet. The animation allows for more physical humor, and there are some juicy bits on display in "The Name." An all-out office riot in the wake of announced budget cuts, for example, features some very funny background images (such as salarymen dueling with staplers amid the raging inferno).

"Dilbert's" voice talent couldn't be left in better hands. Daniel Stern, whose voice should be familiar to any fan of "The Wonder Years," stars as Dilbert (who, it should be noted, has been given a mouth with which to speak). Ex-"Late Show with David Letterman" alum Chris Elliot contributes vox as the megalomaniac Dogbert. Although initial reports said that Elliot might be dumped because of his vocal similarity to Stern, the end result shows that Elliot makes a perfectly hilarious homunculus of a sidekick. Comedian Larry Miller and "Suddenly Susan" mainliner Kathy Griffin round out the seasoned cast of this promising sitcom.

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