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TV Series Review

Stephen Colbert isn't a conservative blowhard. He just plays one on TV.

The star of Comedy Central's satirical news show The Colbert Report is fueled by pure ironic bombast. From his electronic pulpit, Colbert (pronounced 'coal-bear') has run for president, hawked Doritos and interviewed some of the country's most powerful people.

"This show is not about me," Colbert said on his first broadcast. "No, this program is dedicated to you, the heroes. ... The people who watch this show, average hard-working Americans. You're not the elites. You're not the country club crowd. I know for a fact my country club would never let you in. You're the folks who say something has to be done. And you're doing something. You're watching TV."

Indeed, Colbert attracts more than a million "heroes" regularly, and the show's influence outstrips its ratings. Fans often refer to themselves as part of "Colbert Nation." But that nation doesn't welcome everybody. Take folks with an irony deficiency. Though Colbert presents himself as having a fondness for Ronald Reagan, apple pie and marriage protection amendments, the show's underlying message is decidedly liberal. Colbert himself warns that children—even his own—shouldn't watch.

"Kids can't understand irony or sarcasm, and I don't want them to perceive me as insincere," Colbert told 60 Minutes. "Because one night, I'll be putting them to bed and I'll say ... 'I love you, honey.' And they'll say, 'I get it. Very dry, Dad. That's good stuff.'"

While Colbert wallows in irony, his occasionally crass brand of humor also dabbles in sex and profanity. Granted, Colbert's language stays relatively clean by cable standards, but sex is a regular topic. Colbert zings homosexuality with a comic passion and says he goes to zoos to ensure that the animals aren't engaging in premarital relations.

Drug references are another fly in the ointment. When Colbert visits the Smithsonian and sees Albert Einstein's pipe, he asks the curator what the physicist was "smoking" when he thought of the theory of relativity. And after breaking his wrist, Colbert downs handfuls of "pain pills" on the air—a not-so-subtle dig at conservative radio king Rush Limbaugh's addiction to painkillers.

When 60 Minutes asked Colbert what he thought of his character, Colbert said, "I think of him as a well-intentioned, poorly informed, high-status idiot." For a self-proclaimed idiot, Colbert has plenty of interesting things to say about culture, the country and the political process. But before teens apply for citizenship in Colbert Nation, parents should read its constitution. Then read between the lines.

Episodes Reviewed: Various clips, plus Jan. 7-10, 2008

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Paul Asay

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