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A BRITISH BROADCASTING COMEDY, IF YOU WILL.

Byline: David Kronke TV Critic

GIVEN HOW empirically pathetic Alan Partridge is, he must be given credit, one supposes, for succeeding just long enough to be deemed a has-been rather than a never-was.

Partridge is the inspired comic creation of British comic Steve Coogan (``24 Hour Party People,'' ``Coffee and Cigarettes''). His sorry saga dribbled out over nearly a decade in England, beginning with the monumentally inept chat show ``Knowing Me, Knowing You With Alan Partridge'' in 1994, and an equally lamentable (post-) Christmas special. It continued in two six-episode cycles of ``I'm Alan Partridge,'' which found the - for lack of a better word - ``personality'' ever further removed from his network-TV days, plugging along at a small-town radio station and writing an autobiography that skipped the remainder bin entirely in favor of immediate pulping.

``Knowing Me, Knowing You,'' replete with grating ABBA music and an incredibly lame catch phrase (``Aha!''), is the most purely absurdist and comic of the three series. Partridge is a dementedly awful host, with a penchant for terrible puns and a thoroughgoing inability to conduct a civil interview. (Initially, some viewers not in on the joke complained to the BBC about Partridge's behavior.)

``Do the anecdote,'' he clumsily orders a guest, and, once she has, he responds, ``That's no good.'' In tonight's episode, he ends up flipping off his panel. In a French-themed episode, he tells a bawdy clown troupe, ``You're a disgrace.'' He has the survivors of a recently deceased man assist him in judging a beauty contest, patronizes a couple of American children who defeat him and, finally, inadvertently murders his final guest.

Small wonder that his show is canceled and his wife dumps him. In 1997's ``I'm Alan Partridge,'' our, um, hero has aged significantly. He's stranded in the graveyard shift at a dinky radio station by night and irking the staff of a roadside businessman's motel by day (one employee, amusingly played by Sally Phillips, laughs openly, frequently and witheringly at him), with only his bewilderingly loyal personal assistant Lynn (Felicity Montagu) to defend what honor he has remaining.

Unlike ``Knowing Me, Knowing You,'' ``I'm Alan Partridge'' is a regular situation comedy, though one, like ``The Office,'' that regularly finds its protagonist in wincingly humiliating situations, including a terribly awkward date with a receptionist at his production company whom he neglects to tell that he has just shuttered her place of employment. Later, he has the realization, ``I just hate the general public,'' and sets about proving it by schmoozing a former network boss at a colleague's funeral - in a jacket backed with a motor-oil logo. (Alan loves to load up on the freebies in exchange for free plugs on the air.)

Such biting humor is dissipated mildly by an intrusive laugh track (it's a single-camera show) and a recurring fantasy sequence in which Alan imagines himself a (not terribly gifted) exotic dancer, a gag that wears itself out well before it's finally laid to rest.

``I'm Alan Partridge'' offered a second series five years later, which found the show-biz survivor rebounding, just a smidgen, after a breakdown. There's a slightly better time slot at the radio station, an unwatched cable quiz show and a Ukrainian girlfriend (Amelia Bullmore).

While the laughs remain in place, this final season features more overtly sitcom-ish punch lines and plotting, somewhat diminishing Partridge's distinctive essence, if not his place in British TV's comic pantheon.

David Kronke, (818) 713-3638

david.kronke(at)dailynews.com

THE ALAN PARTRIDGE EXPERIENCE - Three and one half stars

What: A mediocre British television personality's career arc trends painfully downward over a decade.

Where: BBC America.

When: 8 and midnight tonight.

In a nutshell: England's ``Larry Sanders Show.'' Steve Coogan is hilarious as a vain and clueless ``entertainer,'' with the latter word being used advisedly.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 2, 2005
Words:632
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