Strange bedfellows: D-pants and absurdity without reserve

1/2 of TubaTV is off its game, and I heartily apologize.  How on earth did 8 new episodes of Tim and Eric escape me?  At the time of writing I’ve only seen the first two installments of T&E‘s fourth season, but so far I’m a little disappointed.  There are plenty of genuinely magical bits (I refrain deliberately from calling them “sketches”), but they’re consistently being smothered by Heidecker & Wareheim’s predilection for gross-out sound effects.  Having read an interview in William Randolph Hearst outlet The believer, I wanted to believe that T&E were moving away from facile body-fluid grotesquerie and more toward what I’ve taken to calling “absurdity without reserve.”

"You can sleep out on the couch 'till you find a place."
"You can sleep out on the couch 'till you find a place."

“Daddy daughter sing off ’98,” from episode 402, “Balls,” is an excellent example of what I mean by this.  Accompanied by a trio of backup singers, Frank Stallone croons to his daughter, Molly: “Now hush my daughter, I’ve got something to say to you / And it might not be the words you wanna hear / Your mother and I are running out of space for all our stuff / And there’s only one place to put the things that we both hold so dear / We’re turning your bedroom back into the computer room…”  What makes the bit so goddamn funny is firstly its absolute lack of context; or more precisely, perhaps, its absolute dependence on intertext.  It’s a collage of cable access aesthetics, B-celebrity vanity, and father-daughter schmaltz, with an ironic lyrical inversion of affect.  (Technically, then, Tim & Eric, you, too, “hide” “behind” irony.  It’s not necessarily a weakness.)  And just as soon as the bit has emerged from a scene in which Tim operates on Eric’s newly implanted third testicle, it’s gone, replaced by a candid, behind-the-scenes-type sequence of Whoopsie [sic] Goldberg laughing hysterically during the filming of one of the episode’s previous bits.  So long as “Daddy daughter sing off ’98” remains ephemeral, so long as it’s never again acknowledged or repeated, its profitability has been abandoned, expended absolutely, without reserve.  This, I think, is what really sets Tim and Eric (and alternative comedy archetype Mr. Show) apart from the conventional sketch comedy of SNL or MadTV: a ludic, wanton, ghastly economy.

It’s entirely possible that more “Daddy daughter sing off” sequences will pop up over the course of this season, and this is where Heidecker and Wareheim run the risk of losing sight of what makes their show so structurally unique.  The popular singing-dancing duo of Casey and His Brother may have been retired after a modest run, but Tim and Eric‘s most beloved character, Dr. Steve Brule, has been recycled profitably through all four seasons of the show, and now it appears that Brule will soon have his own slot on Adult Swim.  Is this not the basic cable analog of Wayne’s world?  Of course it would be exhausting for every episode of Tim and Eric to be entirely original, but isn’t that sort of the point?

Update: Holy shit, the cameos this season have been amazing.  Michael Ian Black, David Wain, Scott Thompson, and… Josh Groban?!

– J.C. Freñán

TV pet peeve #2: “So what you’re saying is…”

Smile, boys!

Prime time’s non-stop lowest common denominator is BACK.  This time around the exceptional acting talents of Mary Lynn Rajskub may find themselves outshined by the dramatic stylings of such masters of stage and screen as sassy comedienne Janeane Garofalo, TV’s Red Forman and that guy from Entourage.

The Bowler! I'm talking to YOU, dumbasses! 'Ugly Betty.'

If the writers on 24 didn’t invent expository dialogue, they’ve certainly perfected it.  A choice example from the two most recent episodes, just to give you a taste:

It’s Day 7.  “Sengalan” insurgent Iké Dubaku is holding the entire American nation hostage.  CTU renegades Jack Bauer and Tony Almeida — reunited in deep cover, both having been revived from the dead — have cornered Dubaku’s key political and moral rival, Prime Minister Ule Matobo, in his safe room. In an aside to Jack, Tony reminds us what’s at stake: “Jack, we leave here without Matobo, we lose our only chance of getting at Dubaku.”  (Thank you, Tony.  Jack probably wouldn’t have reached that conclusion all by himself.)  According to my calculations, the time is 11:59:50am.  A full 68 seconds later, Tony huffs another aside to Jack: “We’ve gotta get Matobo.  Without him we’ve got nothing.”  (Jack must somehow have forgotten since Tony last relayed this exact same piece of information.  A minute ago.)  Several more minutes pass.  Jack and Tony make their way to the kitchen, where Tony warns Jack of the danger posed by trying to gas Matobo out of the safe room.  Jack responds, at 12:08:20pm: “Delivering Matobo is our only chance to get to Dubaku and the CIP device.”  (Jack realizes, of course, that Tony has forgotten what he had said to Jack, twice, just 8 minutes ago.)

We’re all clear on the central dilemma of the hour, right?  Whatever they’re paying you, David Fury and Alex Gansa, it’s not nearly enough.

– J.C. Freñán