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television: Back Talk

A new spoof of self-help shows humorously bites the hand that feeds it.


All of the above is what makes "O2Be" so hilarious.

"O2Be" mocks daytime self-help talk shows aimed at women, shows that feature segments on diets, relationships, celebrities and home and personality makeovers. You know them all too well — "Oprah," "Live with Regis and Kelly" and a whole slew of others on the Lifetime and Oxygen networks. "O2Be" says it all in its opening title: "O2Be … prettier, richer, sexier, thinner O2Be anyone but me." And "O2Be" has one more thing going for it: Oxygen has the confidence to air it, to allow Lizz Winstead and Brian Unger, the show's hosts and producers, to bite the hand of one of the bigger offenders, the hand that feeds them.

Winstead and Unger are adept at satire and have the credentials to prove it. Winstead was one of the creators and head writers of "The Daily Show" and has produced segments for "The Jon Stewart Show." Unger is also a veteran of "The Daily Show," where he was a producer and correspondent, and he's worked on the serious side of TV news as a producer for CBS News on Connie Chung's magazine show, "Eye to Eye."

Nobody with a working pulse would mistake "O2Be" for the real thing — not for more than a minute or two anyway. Winstead and Unger are masters of the art of mockery, so skilled that it only takes one impossibly insincere moment to jar viewers into realizing what's up: They're committing witty, droll and savage satire.

Take the show's recent tribute to American justice as an example. "I like the fact that the poor and suspicious are often jailed for minor offenses before they can commit larger crimes. That's vision," said Winstead. "From where I stand, America's legal system is every bit as good as our schools, our health-care coverage, our race relations and our air quality," said Unger.

Or this, from a Dr. Phred round of "lightning therapy." He offered advice to a man who complained about his wife's crack habit: "Well, she's gonna need money to support that habit. Be a man. Make her be a crack whore."

Naturally, Winstead and Unger — who use their own names as hosts — tout their own magazines. (What real-life women's show host might that be like?) Brian Magazine features cover stories on "Sexual Harassment: 15 Alibis That Work" and "Yes, That New Dress Does Make You Look Fat: The New Honesty." Liz Magazine is razor sharp as well, with articles like "They're Called the Help: Why Don't They?" and "Tuning Out: How to Smile Without Listening."

Sitting at a stereotypical anchor desk in the middle of a faux living room with a big-city skyline behind them, Unger and Winstead interview real-life celebrities — who willingly cooperate in their own hatchet-job "Inanimate Moments" — and introduce segments on topics ranging from books (such as one about giving credit-card debt a better name) and real TV shows (like the "CSI" sendup for "ladies who have a hard time with science").

If you've ever watched one of those real daytime women's shows, "O2Be" will cleanse your mind like pure iodine on a fresh wound. It stings, but it's devastatingly effective. S

"O2Be" airs Sunday evenings at 7:30 on the Oxygen cable channel.

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