It seems that every fall there's at least one new show that's so completely and utterly awful that it's difficult to understand how it even managed to make it on the air.
This year that show is UPN's "The Secret Diaries of Desmond Pfeiffer" (Monday, 8:30 p.m., Ch. 14).It's not just that this is an alleged comedy that isn't in the least bit funny. It's also crude, offensive and tasteless in the extreme.
Oh, and it mocks the 16th president of the United States, portraying Abraham Lincoln as a closet homosexual and perhaps even a pedophile.
This from an alleged network whose new goal is to reach out to middle America.
"The Secret Diaries of Desmond Pfeiffer" is annoying from beginning to end. Even the title grates on the nerves - Pfeiffer is pronounced P-feiffer (the P is not silent).
And that's about as funny as the show ever gets.
Desmond (Chi McBride), we're told, is an English nobleman who just happens to be black. (Huh?) He's the butler in the Lincoln White House and a confidant of the president's.
He's also a stunningly unfunny man. When the president's gorgeous new secretary announces that the old secretary has died of typhus during the night, Desmond says with a laugh, "Well, lucky for us the man refused to boil his water."
Of course, the arrival of the gorgeous new secretary doesn't exactly please Mary Todd Lincoln (Christine Estabrook), who's portrayed as a shrewish nymphomaniac. Desmond wants out of war-torn Washington and proposes that Mr. Lincoln (Dann Florek) allow him to accompany Mrs. Lincoln to England. Mrs. Lincoln has a proposal of her own - she propositions Desmond.
"It seems that to secure the position with Mrs. Lincoln is to assume the position with Mrs. Lincoln," Pfeiffer says.
It's part of a pattern of tasteless sexual humor throughout the show. That's in addition to the racist humor and the incest jokes, and the jokes about that hysterical topic of alcoholism.
Not content to stop there, the show impugns an entire region of the nation.
"I'm afraid if the South wins, we'll become a nation of inbred cousins with beer bellies riding around in jacked-up carriages," Pfeiffer says.
The show reaches its nadir when the president, after inadvertently sipping an aphrodisiac, begins expressing sexual desire for men.
"Desmond, has anyone ever told you your eyes look like dancing orbs of onyx by firelight," Lincoln asks.
And later: "I pray I'm doing the right thing, but it feels so wrong that young boys are dying every day on the battlefield - young boys with large biceps and tight washboard stomachs."
So, not only is he expressing homosexual desires but he's expressing desires for young boys.
"It's all in good fun," Nathan insisted.
"That's just the way it is," McBride said, defending his show against criticism. "You can find something to be offended about in everything."
And, luckily for viewers, they don't have expend any effort looking for something to be offended by in "Desmond Pfeiffer" - offensive material pretty much leaps off the screen.
The producers actually defended the scene in which Lincoln goes so far over the top.
"Are we historically accurate in saying that Lincoln, you know, likes boys? No," Fanaro said. "I mean, it was within the context of what was happening in the scene. And pedophile - that's really reading something into it."
Apparently, expressing sexual desire for "young boys" has nothing to do with pedophilia in their little world.
There's so much to dislike about "Desmond Pfeiffer" it's hard to list it all. Bad writing, bad casting (Florek as Lincoln? Kelly Connell as Ulysses S. Grant?), bad directing . . . bad, bad, bad.
The show is, quite obviously, not a documentary. But the producers spent so little time thinking about the real world that there are multiple references to the Oval Office - which did not exist in the 1860s. And when the floozy secretary appears wearing nothing but an American flag wrapped, the flag has far too many stars on it.
And "Desmond Pfeiffer" fails the test of basic TV-making competence. In one scene, you can clearly see shadows from the sound booms on McBride's forehead. It's the sort of elementary mistake that's excusable if elementary school kids are making a home video, but not the sort of thing that's acceptable on a network TV show.
Nathan and Fanaro - whose credits include writing the feature film "Kingpin" (another piece of junk) - see "The Secret Diaries of Desmond Pfeiffer" as some sort of slick satire. It's not.
"We thought that there was an opportunity by setting it in the White House during the Civil War that it could work on another level," Fanaro said. "Meaning that we're not making as much fun of Lincoln as we are of Clinton."
Well, guess what. "Desmond Pfeiffer" doesn't work on any level. It's not clever, it's not witty - it's just crude and stupid without being funny.
And when it's not crude, it's just lame. It includes sparkling political satire like having the lowly servant, Nibblet (Max Baker), ask, "Should I start painting `1600' on that big mailbox out front?"
Perhaps the most honest thing the producers had to say was when they admitted that their show would not be airing on any outlet other than UPN.
"Not a chance. Not a prayer," Fanara said. "You would have been laughed out of any other network pitching this show."
(Well, at least somebody would have been laughing.)
"Yeah, we were thrilled that UPN had the courage to do it," Nathan added.
Courage?!? It's courage like this that has made UPN what it is today - the troubled sixth-place network with declining ratings and an increasingly dim outlook.
UPN is, at least, advertising the show in an honest fashion. "Critics Hate It" scream the print ads.
If they'd wanted to go for complete accuracy, they would have included the line " . . . and you will, too."