As a pop-culture nerd from a young age, it isn’t particularly uncommon for me to obsess over things before the rest of my social circle does (Breaking Bad, Cowboy Bebop, 90s hip-hop, etc.), but I’ve noticed my history with Tim & Eric Awesome Show Great Job is worthy of a good story. The two comedians really sounded off a new phase of my life, where I found myself an art film appreciator and an irreverent humorist. Of course, given the divisive nature of their material, they certainly brought out a darker side of mine as well, where’d I’d find myself in (not always friendly) debates about their artistic merit. Alas, after six years of me knowing about their existence, watching all five seasons of their show, and seeing both of the movies to come out this year that featured them, I’ve come to ponder this question: Am I done with Tim and Eric?
Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job (last time I write the whole title) premiered during the start of my second semester of my freshman year at college (February 11, 2007). I suppose I had been introduced to the duo beforehand in their previous Adult Swim TV series Tom Goes to the Mayor (of which I have still regrettably only seen a few episodes of), but their new show really made me take notice of them. I was grieving over the cancellation of Wonder Showzen, and was looking for a similar brand of out-of-the-box humor (notice I didn’t use the oft used term “stoner”), and Tim and Eric was that and more. The show used intentionally bad filmmaking and awkward comic timing in such a brilliant way that I almost instantly understood what they were trying to say. Tim and Eric were obviously making fun of pretentious people, filmmakers or otherwise, in a style that was clearly inspired by David Lynch. I feel David Lynch is one of America’s funniest auteurs, so it made perfect sense that these two former film students would find such comedic success under his influence.
From freshman year on, I was a Tim and Eric fanatic. I watched their show religiously, sent clips of it to my friends (who more often than not found them to be just two talentless idiots), mimicked it’s sketches, and eventually discovered the brilliant Mr. Show, an earlier sketch comedy show that mentored their own. I even found the show got better each season, and it became more and more obvious to me why I latched on to it: It was cute. Despite all the shit and dick jokes, the so-mean-its-funny humor, and comic violence, there was something really endearing about this fucked up world that they had created. The two really understood friendship, and even when the show was at it’s most grotesque you still got the feeling that these two were nice guys (kind of).
For the first season or so, Awesome Show was relatively unknown around my friends, but it didn’t take long for it to become extremely well known. Tim and Eric clips would adorn people’s Facebook pages, Steve Brule imitations became popular, and I even heard certain college professors would bring up the show’s merits in video and animation classes. Thing was, Tim and Eric quickly gained just as many detractors as it did fans, and these people didn’t dislike the show, they fucking hated the living shit out of it! I’ve met at least one person who’ll grow angry just by hearing the mention of their name, and a few people told me the show didn’t bode well for the future of television. Initially, I shrugged these people off and felt that they just weren’t getting it, but as time went by I began to ponder if maybe Tim and Eric were becoming just that.
I wasn’t a fan of the final season of Awesome Show. In the previous four the duo seemed to get the right balance of the sweet with the ribald, but the final season went way overboard with the latter. The duo brought the gross out meter up severely, suggesting that Adult Swim was giving them more leeway than ever. While I’m certainly a fan of artists not having boundaries, I felt jokes about exaggerated puberty or diarrhea restricting butt plugs just went too far and fell flat. I continued to watch the show out of habit, but I just couldn’t help but feel that Awesome Show was running out. I was actually relived to hear that season 5 was their last season, but almost immediately after that their new show Check it Out! premeired. I found this show far more similar to their earlier work (albeit possibly entirely from John C. Reilley’s brilliance) and it was enough to get me back on the Tim and Eric band wagon.
So, this now brings us to 2012, which finally saw the duo tackling movies. I was delighted to hear that their debut film Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie would be premiering early in the year. The fact that the film premiered at Sundance and was screening at arthouse theater made me confident that the movie was not a sell-out on their part, and would indeed have the bizarre nature of their TV work. It did…and that was the problem.
Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie started out pretty funny (Chef Goldblum!) but unfortunately their brand of humor doesn’t work well over a long period of time. The film’s final act was almost embarrassingly bad, and somewhat akin to the writing you’d find in an Adam Sandler movie. Also, like the fourth season of Awesome Show you could tell the duo was just trying to get reactions from the audience through shock value. Scenes involving Eric getting a cock ring, smearing come onto a picture of his love interest, and sitting in a tub while children unleashed their bowels on him were all as unfunny as they sounded. If anything, the film’s “sex scene” that involved Tim screwing inflatible dolls and having sex toys shoved up his ass showed how creative they could be with an R-rating, but it wasn’t enough to save this movie from the intentional vat of stupidity that they had chosen to encase it in.
Still, that wasn’t enough to keep me from getting excited about this new indie film that they’d be featured in, The Comedy. At first I was perplexed by the film’s concept, as it seemed really out there for Tim Heideggar to star in an indie drama that took a stabbing look at hipster culture (inarguably a huge audience for the two). As I began to read reviews, however, I found myself more fascinated by the prospect. I kept hearing the film was really dark, and challenging on it’s views in contemporary society. I was hoping the film might seem really relevant, and show a different side for Tim Heideggar as an actor. I followed the film compulsively, and eventually found that it was going to be screened at BAM CinemaFest during the summer. I promptly bought a ticket, with high expectations.
After having seen The Comedy, however, I can’t help but feel it was naive of me to have such anticipation for it. The Comedy (directed and written by Rick Alverson) clearly isn’t a film that’s supposed to be liked. I don’t want to compare it too much to Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie as the two films have little in common, but if that film showed Tim and Eric’s at their most gleefully ribald, then this looks at them at their most dismally ribald. Starting with a scene that showcases a joyless party of middle-aged hipsters dry humping each other, to a climax involving a horrific medical emergency, it’s almost an understatement to say the film made me feel shitty afterwards, especially cause I’m not necessarily that far removed from the culture it’s depicting. If that what Alverson was hoping for, than he gets an A+ for achieving audience reactions. The movie’s grade however, is more like a C.
The Comedy is virtually plotless, and is basically a series of vignettes that shows it’s unlikable protagonist Swanson (sublimely played by Tim, actually) dealing with the prison of hipsterdom he’s encased in. It’s evident that the claims it’s making about contemporary culture are mostly accurate, but the film lacks the development for it to really resonate. For example, every scene in the film focuses on it’s protagonist, but you have to ask yourself is that really necessary? We see him do a whole series of revolting things from praising Hitler, to harassing taxi cab drivers, but perhaps seeing him from a distance would of heightened the enigma, and allowed viewers to decide for ourselves whether he’s a bad person or not. As it stands now, despite a few scenes that suggest he might be finding an enlightenment, The Comedy feels rather hollow in terms of characterization. After all, if you’re looking at hipster culture, how much can one facet of the culture really say about this increasingly relevant (irrelevent?) zeitgeist of America.
That said, I did appreciate The Comedy for what it was trying to do, and the fact that Tim agreed to star in it. It shows the actor is willing to participate in bold projects, and he does a great performance in it too. The film certainly shows his weight as an actor, and here’s hoping that we’ll see him starring in more serious avant-garde films in the future.
So, now for the answer to that question I posed in the first paragraph: I’m not done with them, but I just went from being a huge fan of theirs to just a mild one. There’s no doubt in my mind that the two are excellent at their brand of comedy and video editing, and I know they’ll continue to do this for many more years to come. For right now I suppose I’m not thrilled by them, but I have a feeling that sooner of later they’re gonna put out a video or something that I’m gonna rave about that is so freaking awesome!