In “The Help,” the latest attempt by “Married … With Children” creator Ron Leavitt to extend his vulgar moment, even the laugh track is over-the-top. Before viewers can even get a fix on the many ways he will seek to offend, they’re being cued that “The Help” is supposed to be a riot.

Leavitt’s area of expertise is cynical, class-based humor; the Bundys were white trash, as was the family in his less-celebrated sequel of domestic dysfunction, “Unhappily Ever After.” “The Help” extends his reach to society’s swells as well.

The upstairs-downstairs premise follows the soul-robbing lives of servants to an empty-headed, empty-hearted family of richies.

While “Married” was at times brilliant in its broad and gross observations about American values – in part because the idea was somewhat original then – “The Help” appears in the era of “Jackass” and “My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance.” The material feels used up, and in order to recycle it, Leavitt had to come up with jokes and situations that are desperate to shock. The effect is the opposite: been there, seen that.

Maria the maid (Camille Guaty) is the only likable character and the only one in the Ridgeway household who’s not totally self-deluded. Still, she dreams of a day when she can save enough money to go to beauty school and open her own salon.

Almost everyone else is having sex across class lines, with the female cast sporting more cleavage than the red carpet at the Academy Awards.

“The Help” is unintentionally a comment on the state of several acting careers, including Brenda Strong (Sue Ellen Mishkie, the Braless Wonder from “Seinfeld”) as the matriarch who’s sleeping with her personal trainer (Antonio Sabato Jr.); Tori Spelling (“Beverly Hills, 90210”) as the bitter dog walker who keeps track of her charges’ leavings as if she’s an accountant; David Faustino (Bud in “Married …”) as the dissolute son who boasts about sleeping with the Olsen twins; and Mindy Cohn (Natalie on “The Facts of Life”) as the cook who spits in the food.

The cast also includes a bunch of unknowns embarrassing themselves: the clueless daughter, a washed-up teen pop star (Keri Lynn Pratt) trying to follow up her one hit, “Who Does My Nails?”, and the chauffeur (Al Santos) who’s servicing her; the 14-year-old fat son (Graham Murdoch) and the accented nanny (Marika Domincyzek) who’s servicing him.

Leavitt throws all this smelly stuff at the wall and more – he even tries some political jokes – hoping something will stick. The laugh track seems to think it makes for a fine mess.



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