The second season of Kroll Show premieres tonight on Comedy Central, and by the looks of things, Nick Kroll has no intention of changing course. When the first season debuted a year ago, the series appeared to be a showcase of Kroll's larger-than-life characters, like Bobby Bottleservice, who at that point had already been pushing his roofie necklace on us in online videos for months. Indeed, his characters were the centerpiece of the show, but rather than growing thin throughout the eight-episode season, they delivered the goods. That's because Kroll's characters don't exist for their own sakes — they're vehicles for the show's bigger target: reality television and the nature of celebrity.
No sketch show gets reality TV quite as well as Kroll Show does. By centering his series around endearing monsters like Bottleservice, the Liz'es of "PubLIZity," Dr. Armond, and C-Czar, Kroll demonstrates how low the bar has sunk, and how easily we embrace obnoxious personalities with no discernible talents as celebrities, thanks to flashy editing and contrived scenarios. The Real Housewives and Jersey Shores and Duck Dynasties have created a vast pseudo-celebrity subculture, with scores of ambitious hacks cashing in with their own spinoffs, talk show appearances, book deals, and perfumes. They're famous for… well, being famous. And awful. Networks are happy to pick up the tab — it's much cheaper to produce a reality show than it is to write a scripted one (especially on a cable budget), and if the next Honey Boo Boo emerges in a pan of rocks, then the payoff is well worth it. That's the hand that Kroll Show bites, and in Season 2, he's hungry for more.
The season premiere dives back into the lives of those characters, with the teenage thug C-Czar (Kroll) now learning how to be a father in a reality show called "Dad Academy," and his whiny baby mama Liz B. (Jenny Slate) adjusting to pregnancy while running a PR firm with Liz G. (Kroll) on "PubLIZity." Also returning are Kroll and John Mulaney's "Too Much Tuna" public access prankster geezers. The faces are familiar but the universes have expanded and collided — as is often the case in reality television, unbearably — and while Kroll and co.'s character work is as strong as ever, it's the dark undertones, nonsense wordplay, and editing flourishes that provide the humor here. (I specifically enjoyed C-Czar calling everyone else C-Czar and Liz B.'s "Who can never be sure?").
As usual, the series relies heavily on guest stars, with Slate and Mulaney popping up throughout the premiere, as well as Zach Galifianakis, Will Forte, Marc Evan Jackson, and Chelsea Peretti (who also writes for the show). And while it's enjoyable to see Kroll and his funny pals take old characters to new places, one does feel at times that Kroll has slightly overestimated the longevity of his creations and wish he would bring in new bits more often. Indeed, a highlight from the season premiere is the cold open, a beautifully shot surreal piece called "Cake Train" (also the episode's title). Aside from its bizarre concept, it's great just because it feels so texturally different from everything else — the kind of pieces SNL should be doing more often, and the ones Key & Peele have become so well known for. The episodes that follow will feature new twists for Kroll's other big Season One concepts — Bobby Bottleservice (with Jon Daly's Peter Paparazzi), Bryan LaCroix and his Canadian soap "Wheels Ontario," Dr. Armond, and Rich Dicks — as well as a few new premises and surprise cameos that I won't spoil here.
Perhaps the most fun aspect of Kroll Show is the lengths Kroll goes to to weave his various "mini-shows" into one, big universe of garbage television. C-Czar and Liz B. having a baby. The PubLIZity girls being credited as creators of "Armond of the House." Dr. Armond being one of the dads in "Dad Academy." Even having C-Czar shout "Let them eat cake!" right after the Cake Train sketch. These subtle jokes indicate that Kroll Show is much more than a one-dimensional character parade for Kroll; it's a nuanced satire of one of the uglier trends in American culture. And Nick Kroll isn't afraid to get ugly to call it out.
Erik Voss is a writer and performer living in Los Angeles. He hosts the Evil Blond Kid podcast and performs on the house team Wheelhouse at the iO West Theater.