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'The Approval Matrix' review: It can only improve

From left, Julie Klausner, Willie Geist and Neal

From left, Julie Klausner, Willie Geist and Neal Brennan in the SundanceTV original series "The Approval Matrix." Credit: Sundance TV / JC Dhien

THE SHOW "The Approval Matrix"

WHEN | WHERE Mondays at 11 p.m. on Sundance

WHAT IT'S ABOUT The Approval Matrix is the popular feature that has anchored New York magazine's back page for years -- a fast guide to the ephemera of pop culture in any given week, with each bit of ephemera ascribed a value (highbrow or low? despicable or brilliant?) by New York's editors. This adaptation is hosted by Neal Brennan, the veteran standup, producer and co-creator of "Chappelle's Show," who moderates a rotating four-person panel each week. Inscribed on a small block of wood are various topics -- those then placed on a board placed between the panel that looks like New York's Matrix. The panel can then shift the block around depending on whether someone agrees or disagrees with a value assessment. Tonight's panel: TV Guide critic Matt Roush, writer-star Whitney Cummings ("Whitney"), "Today" show co-host Willie Geist and Julie Klausner, host of "How Was Your Week" podcast.

MY SAY New York mag's "Approval Matrix" takes a lot of stuff that has a shelf life measured in minutes, assigns a value to it, then decides where this bit of flotsam should lie within the matrix. The result: An easily digestible guide to pop culture that can make any water-cooler conversation more interesting (or interminable).

But this television adaptation -- if tonight's premiere is representative -- does not work. Brennan and panel take up a well-chewed topic (are we in the golden age of television? Sure. Discussion over) and chew some more. The panel's a lively one and certainly an informed one, too -- TV Guide's Roush is a first-rate critic. However, tonight's topic isn't particularly topical and (worse) the format bears only passing resemblance to the print Approval Matrix.

The fault may not entirely be the show's. This was taped in June, when Sundance ordered six test editions, and clearly Brennan needed a topic that would hold up months later. Next week's show is actually better because it takes another dust-covered subject -- L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling -- but explores the question of whether surreptitious taping is good (if it exposes bad behavior) or despicable.

"Matrix" may simply be one of those programs that needs to be taken on faith -- that Brennan and his co-producer, Rory Albanese (formerly of "The Daily Show") are a pair of smart, funny guys who will eventually figure this out, assuming Sundance gives them the opportunity to.

BOTTOM LINE Needs work.

GRADE C (but this episode seems more like a test run than a finished product)

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