"Life. It’s literally all we have. But is it any good?"
Last night, this so very critical question was posed by Andy Daly’s earnest and committed life critic Forest MacNeil before taking on the life experiences of stealing, addiction, and the prom in the premiere episode of Review on Comedy Central. By MacNeil's patented five-star rating system, the experiences didn't fare well, but the pilot works as a highly successful demonstration of the show's central concept in action, and its blend of dark comedy and news magazine parody, sharp writing, and talented cast make it a very promising show with seemingly endless storytelling potential.
Based on the Australian series Review with Myles Barlow, Daly plays Forest MacNeil, a critic in the mold of an extreme George Plimpton, a consummate experiential journalist who sought out uncommon life experiences like those of extraordinary athletes for example, playing goalie for the Boston Bruins and writing about what it means and feels to do the thing so few of us experience.
Plimpton pursued that which sparked his curiosity, but MacNeil's activities are viewer-directed; it's less about him pursuing his interests to their highest possible levels of expression than being of service to (and at the mercy of) his viewership. Whatever you're curious about, MacNeil will do it. Review takes the life-by-proxy appeal of reality television to its logical conclusion by asking viewers what they want to see. Unlike critics who review movies (or TV shows) that you could see without reading a review, MacNeil often does what you or any other sane person wouldn't. READ MORE
The LA-based monthly short-form comedy and variety show The Thrilling Adventure Hour is entering its ninth year in March, and as a self-proclaimed “new-time podcast in the style of old-time radio,” the show is ever-gaining in popularity and expanding into media beyond its live show roots. Last fall, creators Ben Acker and Ben Blacker released a graphic novel adaptation of the show, bringing their idiosyncratic sensibility that regularly mixes vaudeville humor, the tropes of old genre serials, arch wordplay, and catchphrase humor all wrapped in good-natured whimsy to the page and realizing characters like Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars and the time-traveling, Nazi butt-kicking Amelia Earhart in a new form. Thrilling Adventure Hour’s talented group of regular performers includes Paul F. Tompkins, Paget Brewster, Marc Evan Jackson, Busy Philipps, James Urbaniak, and John DiMaggio, and the show frequently draws talented guests like Nathan Fillion, John Hodgman, and Linda Cardellini.
I was able to talk to Thrilling Adventure Hour creators Ben Acker and Ben Blacker each via phone, and we discussed the show’s unique voice, collaborating with Welcome to Night Vale, and how they’re growing the Thrilling Adventure Hour world. READ MORE
Key & Peele wraps up its third season next week, and the dynamic sketch show continues to work like a well-oiled machine, delivering an impressive and idiosyncratic mix of sketches with strong performances from creator-stars Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele and pitch-perfect cinematic aesthetics from director Peter Atencio. Comedy Central has renewed the show for a fourth season, and credit must also go to executive producers Jay Martel and Ian Roberts. As showrunners, Martel — a television, film, and theater writer known for Strangers with Candy — and Roberts — writer, producer, UCB founder who executive produced Players on Spike TV with Martel — unite the disparate players around a common vision, oversee the writing staff, and represent the show to Comedy Central.
I recently talked with Roberts and Martel about their roles as showrunners, the writing process, and how Key & Peele has changed in its three seasons. READ MORE
Mike Birbiglia isn't in love with standup comedy, and he's not exactly hot on the one-man show either. The workman-like storyteller says he's more interested in blending his favorite aspects of the two, as in his latest standup special My Girlfriend's Boyfriend, which came out on DVD, Amazon, and iTunes this week. In the show, Birbiglia offers his skeptical views on marriage as a through line to a series of stories on his own mortification and frustration in relationships, each executed with his self-deprecating wit and a surprising strain of earnestness.
I talked recently with Birbiglia about ending his 70-city tour of the show, the personal reactions of fans, and his desire to offer something more than just jokes.
On the spectrum of conceptual talk shows, Natasha Leggero’s Tubbin’ with Tash, which debuted last month on the YouTube channel JASH, is certainly one of the weirder ones, with its hot tub location possibly being the most conventional thing about it. Leggero is assisted by Moshe Kasher who plays her spa boy Pig Bottom, and the short-but-insane episodes have featured prominent comedians joining the host in her hot tub, which has led to memorable images like Reggie Watts twerking, Sarah Silverman using a tampon as a projectile, and Eric Andre getting naked, which is actually becoming business as usual for his talk show appearances.
I talked to Leggero recently about her show, her clothing optional rule, and the power of the hot tub. READ MORE
Jason Mantzoukas is known for playing the crazy man, and he couldn’t be happier. The UCB-trained improviser, actor, and writer is most known for his over-the-top and likely psychopathic breakout character Rafi on FXX's The League, but he's also appeared as eccentric perfume magnate Dennis Feinstein on Parks and Rec and nuclear specialist and sidekick to Sacha Baron Cohen in The Dictator. Mantzoukas co-hosts the bad movie podcast How Did This Get Made? and has written for Childrens Hospital. Most recently, he co-wrote an episode of The League with Seth Rogen that polarized fans of the show when it chucked the main cast to focus almost entirely on otherwise secondary characters Rafi and Dirty Randy on a road trip to Los Angeles to avenge a friend’s death.
I recently got to talk with Mantzoukas while he was visiting NYC about that episode of The League (spoilers below), How Did This Get Made?, and his love of improv. READ MORE
The season finale of Childrens Hospital airs tomorrow night at midnight on Adult Swim, and for the show’s first half-hour episode, creator Rob Corddry promises sex, explosions, and something different from what viewers have seen before. That’s a tall order, since the joke machine of a show revels in changing up its formula, constantly experimenting with genre, gleefully breaking continuity, and this season arbitrarily changing settings from its only occasionally-referenced regular location in a Rio de Janeiro hospital for American expat children to a U.S. army base in Japan. In true Childrens Hospital style, the choice allowed the comedy new storytelling opportunities, which it more or less embraced before going off on its own idiosyncratic tangents.
I talked to Corddry recently about the show’s fluid reality, writing process, and season finale. READ MORE
What exactly a David Gordon Green movie is is a little hard to pin down these days. Before he directed episodes of Eastbound and Down or stoner comedies Pineapple Express and Your Highness, Green was known for his small dramas like George Washington and All the Real Girls. In his latest film Prince Avalanche, those two halves of his career meet in this small-scale remake of the Icelandic buddy movie Either Way where two mismatched road workers essentially paint lines down a road.
Green quickly and quietly shot the film last summer in a forest area in Central Texas burned by wildfire months earlier, and while the dramedy may be a partial return to form for Green, it feels like something new from costars Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch. Rudd plays Alvin, a judgmental guy who values his alone time and who barely puts up with his girlfriend’s airhead brother Lance, played by Hirsch. Their frosty conversations and attempts to tolerate each other long enough to make it through the job make up the bulk of this eccentric, poignant, and surprisingly lyrical film.
I got the chance to talk with David Gordon Green — who’s already switching things up for his next film Joe, a drama set in the rural south starring Nicholas Cage — about Prince Avalanche, exes seeing your movies, and the joys of doing a lot of different things. READ MORE
Michael Cera’s been up to a lot lately. Between popping up on Burning Love as a mild-mannered guy with a significant nut allergy, reprising his role as a grown-up if woodblock-loving George Michael on the fourth season of Arrested Development (for which he also wrote), and appearing as a coked-out party monster version of himself in This is The End, he’s been redefining the image of what a Michael Cera role is. That diversification should be helped by what might be his most unlikable but layered performance to date in Crystal Fairy, a psychedelic roadtrip drama from Chilean artist and filmmaker Sebastian Silva.
Cera plays Jamie, a self-absorbed American staying with three brothers in Santiago, Chile. The group is about to trip up to the beaches of northern Chile where Jamie is intent on taking mescaline, but their plans are complicated when they pick up a free spirit called Crystal Fairy, played by Gaby Hoffman. Jamie and Crystal Fairy's wildly different worldviews lead to the uncomfortable and compelling conflict at the center of the movie. READ MORE