- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 6, 2000

Dennis Miller tries so hard to be cool.

In this regard, he is not unlike a number of many middle-aged guys who want to revisit their high school years.

Miller is the class clown who favors arcane references that undoubtedly go over the heads of the committed viewers of "Monday Night Football."

His material is intended to show how smart and funny and hip he is, even if he is just another middle-aged guy clinging to the last vestiges of his youth.

That is how it is with a lot of the self-absorbed baby boomers, many of whom are still stuck on Vietnam, Kent State and Nixon. They are fighting their expanding bellies and receding hairlines every step of the way. They suffer from terminal coolness, however trite and transparent the condition is. Theirs is a cry for help. A television camera is their therapist, and the experience apparently is cathartic.

Miller is usually obsessed with the F-word on his HBO show, although he doesn't really employ it in a convincing manner. The F-word works for some guys. It works for Robert De Niro in his wise-guy flicks. The word sounds right, believable when it comes out of De Niro's mouth. You know guys like that.

With Miller, the F-word falls flat, forced, at odds with the pompous figure before you.

His fingernails are too clean, his facial hair too expertly cut in an everyman's way. He is not a guy's guy or a guy you want next to you in a dark alley. He is a guy who imposes Sylvia Plath on his listeners. He is a guy, it seems, who wants to be what he never was, the smart jock who dated the prettiest cheerleaders, made straight A's and won the big game every Friday night, who bridged the social gap between the athletes and the freedom fighters.

So Miller comes off as being a smug, smarmy, smirking sort who pretends to be edgy, almost anti-establishment. It is all a put-on, an inside joke, an incongruent pretense. He is doing very nicely as a member of the establishment, and it wouldn't be prudent on his part to disrupt a system that has been so good to him.

His one-liners, his comments, his rants are not dispensed to alter the status quo. He can dump on Al Gore or George W., middle America or rednecks because his shtick is a self-promotion, his political and social targets used only to illuminate his star. He's there, you're not, and yuk, yuk, yuk.

He is the writer who can't resist a thesaurus. He is the bureaucrat who speaks in an indecipherable code designed to impress. He is such a smarty-pants. You wouldn't mind if Mr. Whitefolks, another creature of HBO, slapped him with the back of his hand.

Miller has nothing to say, at least nothing that is not routinely said around America's water coolers each morning. He is a quipmeister who sometimes stumbles because of his desire to be the teacher's pet and be complimented in front of the class.

Of Terrell Davis' wrapped ankles, Miller trudged out artist Christo to make a point during the Rams-Broncos game Monday night. That was a good one. You could hear America doubled over in laughter.

Good old Christo. Yeah, baby. You're killing everyone.

Don Ohlmeyer hired Miller in part to elicit a national buzz, and on that count, the producer has achieved one of his purposes.

Miller tries to be so far out there that he winds up being an idiot savant of trivia along with a contradiction. He is the wannabe iconoclast of sorts who has embraced the institution of "Monday Night Football." Why, he is one heck of a football fan, don't you know? Or so the spin goes. He is you. But unlike Miller, you probably have not landed an $800,000 book deal.

Miller said that Kurt Warner, given the quarterback's improbable debut last season, is a latter-day Joe Hardy.

That was a reference to the Joe Hardy in the "Damn Yankees" and not to the Joe Hardy in the "Hardy Boys Series."

Not that one more contrived comment probably mattered to most viewers.

The Rams and Broncos put on a show. The game, and what a game it was, sold itself.

It made Miller's annoying asides bearable.

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