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Comedy Central's "Strangers with Candy" is devoid of any nutritional TV-viewing value.

Don't Talk to "Strangers"

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I can't believe I watched a whole episode of Comedy Central's "Strangers with Candy."

No, that's not right. What I really can't believe is that I watched a second episode ... and then a third.

I mean, how many episodes does it take for me to recognize inane silliness? Make that pointless, inane silliness. Better still, make that smutty, pointless, inane silliness — about as innovative as the stuff you find scrawled on the wall in a public bathroom at a trailer park.

I can tell you what made me notice the series: It was a magazine article that described the show's fan base as "14-year-old girls and gay people." That, I thought, ought to be a bracing change from "Hallmark Hall of Fame."

Change, yes. Bracing, not hardly.

"Hi, I'm Jerri Blank, and I'm a 46-year-old high school freshman." That was the opening line in each episode I saw. But I soon discovered that there's a lot more to this bizarre bucktoothed Flatpoint High School student than her age.

She's also an ex-con, a druggie and an ex-prostitute, and she's picking up life where she left it 32 years ago when she dropped out of high school and ran away from home. Oh, yeah: she's also a lesbian.

The characters who surround her are not noticeably any less odd. Her father is a catatonic. The principal at Flatpoint, Mr. Blackman, holds candle-lit love-ins in his office, where he serves fondue. Her art teacher, Mr. Jellicoe, is a closeted homosexual who yearns to be Isabella Rossellini. Her diesel-dyke gym teacher seems to be — and I'm almost certain of this — manually stimulating herself as she watches her girls work out. Her stepmother has taken up with the meat delivery man. And she consistently uses endless variations on the word "fag" to label her younger brother.

No, this is not "Masterpiece Theatre" material — not in your wildest dreams. And if, in describing the series, I'm making it sound interesting, then you'll just have to forgive me. Because it's not. Although, given the premise, I sort of wish it were.

"Strangers with Candy" emerged from the warped minds of co-writers Amy Sedaris (who plays Jerri) and Paul Dinello (who plays Mr. Jellicoe). Their claim is that the series is a twisted take on TV's moralistic after-school specials. Sedaris, who's really 37 and hails from Raleigh, N.C., studied comedy at Chicago's Second City, where she first teamed up with Dinello and the series co-producer, Stephen Colbert. Her brother is the author David Sedaris, with whom she works occasionally.

Fascinating as its premise — and potential — may seem, "Strangers with Candy" flops because it's all over the place, almost as though the actors are making up the lines and situations as they go along. There's a decided lack of focus, and the scripts' attempts at comedy regularly go for the easy talking-dirty laugh. Although, for the Spice Girls demographic the series seems to be aimed at, that may not necessarily be a bad thing.

There's one positive thing to be said, however. In a season when the loudest public cries seem to be for diversity on the tube, "Strangers with Candy" fills the bill. It also proves the truth of the warning "Be careful what you wish for

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