Old-school channel surfers may have used the remote to leapfrog commercials, but today's cable zombies use it to find them: For post-MTV peripatetics who can't stand to stay on any one channel for more than a few dozen seconds, commercials are the only programming that offer a complete dramatic experience. Think about the best TV moments over the last several years; except for a few Cops clips and those strange Melrose Place episodes when it was mutating from thirtysomething to Dynasty, they're all ads: the first "I love you, man!" spot, the "You're fired!" milk guy spot, the greasy-haired cabbie MTV promos that played like Slacker on slo-mo and fast-forward at the same time.
Given this recent history, perhaps the real trend should be toward commercials, not away from them. Jenny McCarthy's new show is a step in the right direction, but even it doesn't go far enough - too often the skits and monologues break the 30-second barrier. Occasionally, one will suggest the compelling mix of sticky tedium and domesticated mania that made those cabbie promos so watchable - but, ultimately, they almost always overstay their welcome, and end up devolving into the kind of rote spontaneous mugging that makes 99% of improv so excruciating. The nervous taxi soliloquist had brevity on his side: because he was never on for too long, the tedium never got tedious, the mania never shrill. Before you could figure him out, he was gone, his mystery intact.
And if there's one thing McCarthy needs right now, it's a little mystery. Indeed, plenty of critics have already identified the reluctant fuck-me doll's secretions-of-my-success self-deconstruction as the most one-dimensional bid for three-dimensionality ever. (Post-feminist star formula, circa 1997: Instead of blowing producers, you blow chunks.) But just because McCarthy is limited doesn't mean her future has to be; she just needs something other than the fact of her own corporeality to sell, and less time in which to sell it. Like another rubber-faced regular guy, the ubiquitous huckster Jim Varney, she could carve out a long, lucrative career for herself if she just learns to stay away from TV shows and movies.