“Crossballs,” a new Comedy Central series, starts with a funny idea.

It’s a concept neatly described in the opening credits, which also reference “Crossfire” and “Hardball”: “comedians, posing as experts, debating real (experts) who don’t know the show is fake.”

Certainly, the shouting and screaming and polarization that is encouraged by real-life “issue shows” needs to be taken down a few pegs.

Could the nation survive without Chris Matthews? Yes, the nation could.

And “Crossballs,” whose executive producers include the first-rate Matt Besser (Upright Citizens Brigade), does the job of satire quite nicely, thank you.

But it’s even better in execution than in the concept. Besser is hilarious as a variety of yahoos, lowlifes and provocateurs. In Tuesday’s first episode of the series (Tuesdays through Thursdays, 6:30 p.m.), he’s a reality-TV veteran debating an actual actor trying to defend scripted fare.

On comes a mock film professor who argues that reality TV has knocked film out of the box. When the actor tries to argue the point, the professor prof says, “Sir, you’re Donna Summers, and I’m Alicia Keys.”

Chris Tallman does great work as the moderator, his throaty tones sounding just like the real thing, and his populist stance, generally sympathetic to the real experts, serves to give the comics more to play against.

Sometimes it goes too far for a joke (eating cow patties on a reality show?). But mostly it maintains the aura of near-plausibility as the show moves at a super-brisk pace, jumping from subtopic to subtopic with the attention span of, well, Chris Matthews. And the extra bits, produced video and issue show-style on-screen headings, add to the comedy.

Is this fair to the authentic experts? Probably not. But I have a feeling the show would work just as well if the real folk were let in on the joke from the start, which would need to be the case if this very funny new series gets renewed.

(c) 2004, Chicago Tribune.

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AP-NY-07-07-04 0627EDT

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