I’m so happy when a comedian doesn’t resort to contrived anger and constant profanity that I’m prone to overpraise. That said, I laughed hard and often at “Important Things with Demetri Martin” (9:30 p.m., Comedy Central).
Martin draws on a lot of influences and does a lot of different things in a half-hour. And he makes all of them seem small and easy. But in its sum total, “Important Things” is audacious, silly and smart.
Martin promises to cover one “Important” topic per show and addresses subjects like power and timing in the form of a fake lecture or corporate presentation. He uses a simple projector to accompany his observations. Each show includes simple stand-up, sketch comedy, animation and mock-serious folk songs and rock numbers.
Amanda Peet shares a sketch with Martin about an actor with the worst timing in the world. In a future episode, Martin inhabits a wonderfully rendered comic book, portraying an angry young man who becomes a superhero to avenge the murder of his beloved father only to be driven to obesity and analysis when he discovers that Dad really died of Lyme disease.
With his deadpan understatement and deceptively dumb approach to serious issues, Martin draws on any number of comic traditions. If you can imagine the little brother of Ray Romano or Adam Sandler channeling the observational humor of Jerry Seinfeld while affecting the tone of “Napoleon Dynamite,” you’re getting close.
His ability to find the funny in small discoveries is enhanced by a cartoonist’s eye. He takes a simple drawing of a coffee cup and shows how just the addition of a few lines can make it look hot or loud or in motion. He makes similarly sly jokes by adding and subtracting letters to common words. And he does this all with crude pieces of paper, giving his showcase a wonderfully low-tech look.
Martin wraps up tonight’s performance in mad busker style, playing a guitar one-handed while working a sketch pad and a piano keyboard and playing bells with his feet. It’s obvious that other artists could do any of these things better, but during Martin’s act, you really have the sense that nobody could do them all simultaneously quite so well or with so many laughs.
Tonight’s other highlights
• The judges settle on the top 36 talents on a two-hour “American Idol” (7 p.m., Fox).
• Henry Louis Gates (“African American Lives”) looks at the legacy of our 16th president and separates fact from well-embroidered myth on “Looking for Lincoln” (8 p.m., PBS, check local listings).
• The rock-and-roll lifestyle can be murder on “Life” (8 p.m., NBC).
• Zooey Deschanel, M. Ward, Jenny Lewis and Jakob Dylan appear on “Spectacle” (8 p.m., Sundance), hosted by Elvis Costello.
• A tourist’s murder opens a window on a dark trade on “CSI: NY” (9 p.m., CBS).
• A violent protest claims an unwitting victim on “Law & Order” (9 p.m., NBC).
• Locke wants to put time on his side on “Lost” (9 p.m., ABC).
• Patty has the media do her bidding on “Damages” (9 p.m., FX).
Suicidal souls meet in an eerie purgatory in the offbeat 2006 comedy “Wristcutters: A Love Story” (9 p.m., Sundance). A surprising number of reviewers used the word “sweet” to describe this otherwise bleak film.