TV pet peeve #4: The ‘Magnolia’ moment

Anyone who saw Magnolia will remember Paul Thomas Anderson’s crowning preciosity, the pan-diegetic sing-along (featuring none other than Crazy Wanda from Big love and everyone’s favorite Dr. Steve Brule!):

Very clever and very Oscar-tempting way back in 2000.  The sing-along schtick was still viable in 2004, when transposed to the small screen and folded back into a specific story arc via a collective tryptamine experience:

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Less convincing in 2006.

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And fully expired by 2007.

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On a related note, the comedic sing-along does manage to avoid peeving, if it’s done well.  Sing-alongs sustained one season of Flight of the Conchords

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..but then turned around and killed the second.  They have also propelled some very strange British comedians to (well-deserved) stardom:

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J.C. Freñán

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