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Out to offend, and hilariously on target

Sarah Silverman parodies the typical sitcom heroine, playing a slacker who is jobless, politically incorrect, and selfish. Sarah Silverman parodies the typical sitcom heroine, playing a slacker who is jobless, politically incorrect, and selfish. (Marc Lecureuil)

There is no single phrase that will handily summarize "The Sarah Silverman Program" on Comedy Central. The sitcom, which premieres tonight at 10:30, is just uniquely Sarah, as the comic uses her little-girl voice in service of her own monumental self-involvement. You could call it "Pee-wee's Playhouse" meets "Seinfeld" and not be wrong; Silverman brings on both juvenile fantasy sequences and an urban narcissism that makes Julia Louis-Dreyfus' s Elaine Benes seem saintly. But then you'd be overlooking the show's sharp mockery of TV sitcoms, of Los Angeles, and of being white and clueless.

Love this strange concoction or hate it -- and I loved it -- you'll still find it hard to reduce to a simple description, especially when the occasional musical sequence pops up. The closest I can come: "The Sarah Silverman Program" is Silve r maniacal.

Just as Larry David plays "Larry David" on "Curb Your Enthusiasm," Silverman plays a version of herself, a Sarah who is a spectacle of uncensored amorality, selfishness, and political incorrectness. (We also met her in the 2005 movie "Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic." ) That spectacle is the show, essentially, as she cavalierly insults every person who crosses her path -- even God, who appears next week as a black man. Sarah sleeps with God, after making it clear she's no racist: "I'm not one of those people who's like, 'Oh, God is black -- is he going to steal the moon, or something?' " But afterward, she treats him like a trick she can't get rid of fast enough.

Sarah is a parody of the usual sitcom heroine. She wanders through pointless days in LA, jobless and freeloading on her younger sister, Laura (played by Silverman's older sister, Laura Silverman). Unlike her forebears, TV women such as Mary Richards, and contemporaries such as Tina Fey's Liz Lemon , she has no ambition. She scorns ambition. Sarah's epic odyssey in next week's episode? To get new batteries for her TV remote control. She can't spare even an hour of her unemployed existence to help a friend move .

In the early 1990s, social misfits with odd obsessions became popularized as "slackers," largely due to Richard Linklater's 1991 paean to the outcasts of Austin, Texas, "Slacker." By the end of the decade, the word had broadened to include a more fashionable fringe frequently spotted at cafes. Now Silverman pushes the word even further into gentrification: Sarah is a slacker all right, but she's also the embodiment of white American entitlement. While the original slackers were only a step up from the homeless, Silverman's slacker has no heart for street people, and a TV ad for dying children irritates her. She's a slacker princess.

Why spend time with such a vapid character? Sarah is an exaggerated version of middle- class Americans who say they care -- about racial equality, about poverty, about their friends -- but really don't. Most of us have elements of Sarah somewhere in the dark corners of our souls. If there is a point to Silverman's hyperbole and extremism, besides making us laugh, that may be it.

Sarah has a little group of friends -- all single sitcom heroines do -- including her gay neighbors, Steve (Steve Agee) and Brian (Brian Posehn), who are cuddly bears. These guys are funny in a sweet way; Laura is not funny at all. Her purpose is to play straight man to Sarah, and to underestimate her sister's lunacy.

Tonight, Laura develops a crush on Officer Jay (Jay Johnston), but don't think Sarah will easily allow her sister to make a love connection. Sarah is still the child who never learned to share; she only looks like an adult. Her development was arrested in that infantile me-me-me place, which is why the show lapses in and out of song segments with childish lyrics.

"The Sarah Silverman Program" is different from Amy Sedaris' s "Strangers With Candy," the Comedy Central series (and, last year, a movie) in which a middle-age ex-convict freak goes back to high school. But both shows twist "normalcy" into garish self-parody, and ridicule the cheap moralizing that traditional sitcoms rely on. And both are cult shows that make you feel just a little queasy as you laugh. You'll love "The Sarah Silverman Program," but only if, like me, you have a healthy appetite for sick comedy.