Rather early in her comedy special “Lisa Lampanelli: Long Live the Queen” (9 p.m., today, HBO), the insult comic ponders the fact that this is her first HBO showcase, a performance perch that puts her in a comedic pantheon with the late George Carlin. I thought about that, too, wondering why HBO felt it necessary to cultivate or encourage Lampanelli’s mediocre, derivative and tiresome act.
As comedians have done since Don Rickles’ heyday, Lampanelli trades in the vicious ethnic or racial put-down, delivered with a smile to a person or persons of the proper extraction, who laughs uproariously and who, it seems, attended the concert and sat in the front-row firing range for the express purpose of being described in the crudest terms.
Only the most thin-skinned or simple-minded would call this racist or politically incorrect. Lampanelli is such an equal-opportunity insulter that the only people who might be offended are those left off her hit list. As a result, Lampanelli’s worst offense is her methodical, almost mechanical approach.
In the end, the most remarkable aspect of the Lampanelli phenomenon is how she has taken the most scalding assortment of epithets and made them boring and pointless. A charitable critic might argue that this is an intentional blow for tolerance — a deliberate defanging of hate speech. I’ll just stick to my opinion that Lampanelli is neither interesting nor original.
• I cringed when I read that Jack Black and Jessica Alba would be making guest appearances on the special post-Super Bowl episode of “The Office” (9:30 p.m. Sunday, time approximate, NBC). Guest spots seem antithetical to the fake documentary style of “The Office” and hearken back to the kind of sitcom “The Office” was suppose to replace. Did the sudden appearance of Heather Locklear on “Spin City” make that show any better? Or different at all?
I’m happy to report that the hour-long “Office” takes no awkward detours from the cringe-inducing formula that has won it a devoted if small audience. It’s hardly certain that even a Super Bowl-sized lead-in can make this show more than an acquired taste for the faithful.
Not to divulge too much here, but Jim and Pam’s relationship hits an unexpected bad patch. But the episode is really about the show’s central relationship, that between Michael and Dwight. The entire hour ping-pongs between Michael’s desperate need to be loved and Dwight’s sociopathic tendency to treat others with contempt and lord his presumed superiority over them.
• Viewers choose their favorite commercials from Super Bowls past on “Super Bowl’s Greatest Commercials 2009” (7 p.m., CBS). Jim Nantz and Daisy Fuentes host.
• Steve Martin hosts “Saturday Night Live” (10:30 p.m., NBC), featuring musical guest Jason Mraz.
• The Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals meet in Tampa Bay, Fla., in Super Bowl XLIII (5 p.m., NBC).
• Additional witnesses against Roman emerge on “Big Love” (8 p.m., HBO).
• Bret’s provocative song about hip hop stars sparks paranoia and intense preparation on “Flight of the Conchords” (9:05 p.m., HBO).