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They can save the day, but their humor needs help

The buzz around ''Minoriteam," the Cartoon Network's new ''Adult Swim" series about a band of racially stereotyped superheroes, is that it's not for the faint of heart -- hence the Sunday-at-midnight premiere. That fear seems a bit overblown. As TV goes, funny-offensive is practically a genre by now; we're so steeped in the conventions of social satire, so programmed to run screaming from political correctness, that it's hard to offend anyone besides the Scientologists.

Humor is best when it practically hurts, which is why the edgiest comedy on TV has always taken aim at race and ethnicity. If anything, cable and late-night TV have set the bar almost impossibly high. ''Chappelle's Show" built its following on brilliant concepts like the ''Racial Draft," and Robert Smigel's ''Saturday Night Live" cartoons get better and better, especially this month's ''Ladysmith Black Mambazo in Outer Space."

''Minoriteam" does its good-natured best to keep up. Its team includes ''Nonstop," an Indian convenience store clerk who is impervious to bullets, and ''Doctor Wang," a laundromat owner with an oversize head. ''Fasto," a smooth black man, works by day as a women's studies professor. ''Jewcano," who pours lava from his hands, has a flowing white beard that makes him look, incongruously, like Zeus.

The villains include ''White Shadow," ''Racist Frankenstein," ''Corporate Ladder," and ''Standardized Test." The scenarios aren't hard to envision; one character finds himself chasing a giant nickel, and one successfully romances a white sorority girl.

The battles, at least, are a visual feast; they must be especially thrilling to fans of the old Marvel Comics, invoked here with care and obvious love.

But if you're not in the exact right mind-set -- some perfect cocktail, I'm guessing, of gender, age, and chemical enhancement -- the show isn't particularly funny. In a sense, that's because it's not offensive enough. We're well past the point where shock value was enough to make ethnic humor work. We need something crazy enough to make us gasp, whether in disbelief or in recognition.

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