Watching Jerry Springer never interested me. Not even when I was nine years old, home alone sick, and privy to a treasure trove of luxuriant sleaze one channel click away for my small, unsupervised fingertips. No matter how depraved, no matter how profane, I never wanted to hear about men cheating on their wives with their stepdaughter’s best friend’s dog. All I wanted was channel 50, because that’s where Comedy Central was and, more often than not, a Dr. Katz mini-marathon. Tom Snyder and Jonathan Katz’s squiggly-lined bastion of cartooned neuroticism was ginger ale for my sniffling soul and I couldn’t get enough.
Throughout the years and their various projects, Snyder and Katz were my personal comedic compasses and barometers for who I’d let enter my inner circle. “Oh, you don’t like Dr. Katz? Gives you a headache, huh? How about Home Movies? Don’t get it? Well, I don’t know if we can be as close now, mom.” When I found out about Explosion Bus, the new Snyder/Katz web series, I walked over to my computer, clenched my fingers crossed, and hoped the project wouldn’t disappoint. It didn’t. What it did do, was surprise.
A seven-episode web exclusive, Explosion Bus follows teacher/comedian Jon Gold (Jonathan Katz), his best friend and former 2nd grade theater instructor, Leo Huckstep (Tom Leopold), and a small band of opportunistic business associates as they bus around the country auditioning talent for their non-judgmental Internet variety show. A solid premise quickly becomes genius when a talented cast brings to life scripts written by Snyder, a master of situational nuance. But none of that’s any different than Dr. Katz. What is different, and surprising for a show in the web video space, is the piece’s TV–length format (18 minutes per episode), detailed story arc that suggests sequential viewing, and Snyder and Katz’s plan to continue three more online-only seasons.
Two TV power-players have created a series for the web, and they want it to stay there. Is this an early sign of an entertainment revolution? Maybe. Either way, the choice is a ringing endorsement for original Internet content. Explosion Bus goes against every web tenet, but it does so bravely, with industry street cred and a seasoned approach that might redefine what audiences are willing to watch on their computers.
If Dr. Katz impacted you the way it did me, then I don’t need to give you three reasons to watch this week’s selection. If it didn’t, I don’t know if we can be as close now, but here you go:
2. Smart ensemble
Episode #1 — The Outrage
In the case of most web series, starting off the pilot episode with a flashforward to a senate hearing that takes place in 2016 would be jarring. In Explosion Bus, the technique, deliberate and recurring, ends up being an innovative narrative device and an opportunity for Katz’s character — on trial for his not-yet-known misdeeds — to break up episodes with standup interludes reminiscent of early Seinfeld installments.
Episode #2 — “Hit the Ground Running”
In entertainment, everything’s been done and every character is kind of boring. One way to spice up roles is by going against type (i.e., an overweight guy playing a romantic lead). A harder route entails giving classic characters so much depth and versatility that they seem new and exciting. While no member of the Explosion Bus ensemble is unusual at first glance, the show’s imaginative dialog allows for unique development of familiar archetypes. While easy to warm up to, protagonists are still unpredictable enough to challenge viewers’ expectations.
Episode #3 — “Show Time?”
Snyder’s cartoons have a penchant for pushing the envelope, visually speaking. Instead of Pixar crisp, animations often possess a kind of artsy quirkiness — a pictorial of characters’ neuroses. Explosion Bus is no different, but instead of the SquiggleVision popular in Snyder’s other series, this one relies on a new form called SketchyVision wherein artists render minimally animated sketches that rely on the subtleties of carefully chosen gestures and postures to convey action. It’s uncommon, understated, and smart, like the show itself.