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Important Things with Demetri Martin needs more pop but shows some promise

Demetri Martin inaction -- and in action. Comedy Central photos

Premiering: Wednesday, Feb. 11th at 9:30 p.m. (central) on Comedy Central
Starring: Demetri Martin
Produced by: Demetri Martin, Jon Stewart

It'd be nice if Demetri Martin were a little/lot funnier. Because he really seems to have the goods -- just not an armload of 'em yet.

Wednesday's premiere of Comedy Central's Important Things with Demetri Martin (9:30 p.m. central) brings forth a mop-headed, nimble-brained 35-year-old who looks quite a bit younger than he is.

But in fact he's a combat vet of both Late Night with Conan O'Brien, for which he wrote, and The Daily Show, on which he performed in periodic "Trendspotting with Demetri Martin" segments.

Daily Show host Jon Stewart further champions Martin's career with this half-hour-hour weekly series from his Busboy Productions, Inc. Tonight's launch is built around the word "Timing." And so it begins on film with Martin in an orange jumpsuit with a water balloon in hand. His timing is impeccable as he splatters a bypassing bicyclist.

What follows is strictly hit-and-miss. Roughly one-third of the show is done before a studio audience, with filmed sketches otherwise in play. Martin's onstage props include a guitar he plays and charts he's drawn. Maybe you'll at least grin -- as I did -- when he shows a picture of a conventional four-holed shirt button -- and then that same picture as a "disappointing pepperoni pizza."

A sketch featuring Martin as an inept actor also has its moments. But he's later less effective as both a rookie cop and then a time-traveling janitor.

Next Wednesday's show, which trades on the word "Power," has appreciably better filmed sketches built around a battle for a parking space and a super hero named the Revenger" who later learns that his father died of Lyme Disease rather than at the hands of violent crooks.

Martin is a low-key comic onstage, dispensing his observational riffs in the manner of Steven Wright in his now long-ago prime. But he's much cuter than Wright and also far less of a sad sack. There's nothing off-putting or cringe-worthy about Martin. You want his jokes to work, and it's more of a letdown than a bomb-drop when they don't.

One of tonight's filmed sketches finds Martin playing a ridiculously garbed character who's "Way too Early for a Rave."

A rave review of Important Things likewise would be premature. But I hope he's working his way up to that.

GRADE: B-minus