Talented Comedian Carries First Season of Iliza Shlesinger Sketch Show

If you’ve seen Peter Berg’s “Spenser Confidential” on Netflix, you know who Iliza Shlesinger is. She’s the actress who pretty much steals the movie away from Mark Wahlberg and Winston Duke, playing Spenser’s passionate ex. Shlesinger has been building a following on the stand-up circuit for years, getting good buzz from audiences and critics for her sharp wit and daring sense of humor. And she brings both of those to her first sketch comedy show, premiering this Wednesday on Netflix. Overall, it’s a bit of a mixed-bag—so much sketch comedy is, especially in the first season—with some sketches going on way past their breaking point, but there’s an unabashed willingness to be ridiculous that marks the best moments in this six-episode run. When Shlesinger latches onto a concept she finds funny, she refuses to let go until she’s drained after last morsel of its potential, and her brazen energy can be infectious in the best episodes of “The Iliza Shlesinger Sketch Show.”

Shlesinger’s sense of humor tends to emerge from the self-deprecating whether it’s the recurring sketch of “Female Jackass,” in which women do things that hurt like ring their ex-boyfriend’s doorbell, or the broadly physical, such as in an amazing sketch in which a business meeting gets rather messy when everyone starts eating nectarines as they discuss the agenda. Sketches sometimes drag a bit past their expiration time, but it’s a quick, well-paced show in general, and I admired how often Shlesinger brought back bits that worked and yet found a way to make them fresh again. Her show has the energy of a strong improv troupe that knows when to callback a punchline for maximum impact.

No offense to anyone else on the show—no one is distracting or remotely bad—but I kind of hope Shlesinger finds a partner or two if this goes to a second season. Even “Chappelle’s Show” had Charlie Murphy, and this can sometimes feel like a one-woman show. Still, it’s clearly been designed for that purpose: to showcase Shlesinger’s talents. Even if it’s not a complete success, it will make casting agents for comedies notice her even more and could end up leading to a real breakthrough with the kind of leading role that turns her into a household name. It's like she’s one “Trainwreck” or “Girls Trip” away from being major. Iliza Shlesinger may have a show named after her, but it still feels like she’s just getting warmed up.

Whole season screened for review. Premieres on Netflix on 4/1.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also the Editor of Magill's Cinema Annual, a writer for The New York Times, Vulture, The AV Club, and Rolling Stone, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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