Sheer brilliant, demented, hilarious surrealism. Don’t see that on telly much nowadays, do you? It’s an industry that Britain used to lead the world in, what with Spine Millington’s Q, Monty Python, utterly brilliant yet criminally never released on VHS or DVD 70s LWT show End Of Part One, Alexei Sayle’s Stuff, Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out (and other non-Shooting Stars R&M vehicles), Attention Scum and Big Train. Since then, there has been very little, with the most recent example we can think of (aside from Look Around You, covered earlier in the list) being 2000’s Chris Morris vehicle Jam, which was slightly disappointing what with it lacking the monologues and general wooziness of its radio precursor. Since then, it seems commissioning editors have been too scared of surprising anyone to give anything even moderately strange a chance, with promising shows like Biffovision and MeeBOX strangled at birth.
Meanwhile, in a move sure to irk timesome buffoons who like to imagine Americans can’t “do irony”, American Cartoon Network spinoff Adult Swim have been commissioning some truly imaginative programming, none more deliciously demented than Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, from the minds behind the wonderful pseudo-cartoon Tom Goes To The Major. Here we’ve got a show that show creators Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim describe as a “nightmare vision of television”, but whereas Jam’s nightmare was one where you wake up to find an escaped mental patient tapping at your skull with a toffee hammer, …Awesome Show is more like waking up to find you live in a bouncy castle. That really is one of the worst analogies we’ve ever attempted.
In short, T&EAS, GJ! is utterly unlike anything ever seen on US television before. Some shows in the past have skirted with surrealism, with possibly the finest examples being Police Squad and Mr. Show, but both kept to the structural blueprints of sitcom and sketch show respectively. Tim and Eric take their show in any direction they feel like – some episodes contain recognisable sketches, spoof adverts, news reports, fake public access shows, while some concentrate on a single idea for the entire show. Occasionally, Tim and Eric barely appear in an episode at all.
We should probably point out that when we say ‘sketches’, don’t expect a standard ‘premise’, ‘situation’, and ‘punchline’ here. A sketch could be a VHS recording of a talent show, where a frightened man-boy with chapped lips sings unenthusiastically while his brother dances in the background. A bed salesman called Pall Willeaux starts a pitch in what – haha! – looks like it’s going to be a spoof of awkwardly poor local TV commercials, only for him to spiral into a nightmare where he’s a living zombie tearing limbs from people while howling about his missing son. A segment of a running sketch could easily end with one of the characters suddenly turning into a toad.
Much of this is done with superbly slick video editing, so if you think a scene has just ended, the final second of it might loop for half a minute, drum beats are added, and the whole scene transforms into a pounding techno track. Now, we’re not qualified to actually make this statement, but we actually suspect that both Tim and Eric are somehow the bastard lovechildren of Spike Milligan, Kenny Everett and George Gorsz, who is a Dadaist artist we’ve just looked up on Wikipedia so that we might seem clever by crowbarring in a reference to Dadaism.
Not a single minute is wasted, and it’s a show where each episode still seems fresh even after several viewings. Indeed, despite being in a throwaway slot on a minor cable network, it’s able to attract a more than respectable roster of guest stars, with the likes of John C. Reilly, Patton Oswalt, David Cross, Zach Galifianakis, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Cera, Bob Odenkirk (who is also the show’s producer), Elisha Cuthbert and “Weird Al” Tankovic all making appearances.
Annoyingly, what with Bravo having ditched its nightly Adult Swim UK strand to make room for a billion episodes of When Imported Clip Shows Cost Us Bugger All, there’s no way to watch it on British TV, but you can dip into clips from the show at the Adult Swim UK website. Meanwhile, only the first series of the four is available on Region 2 DVD over here right now, though happily it can be found as cheaply as £6.85 right now. For the later seasons, you’ll have to pick up the imported region one sets, or indulge in the dark arts of the internet. Ah, go on. Have a clip: