Sunday, July 14, 2024

‘On Cinema,’ The Internet’s Avant-Garde Comedy Masterpiece

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There are so many excellent television shows right now that it seems like there’s something perfect for everyone. In animation, you’ve got the brilliantly choreographed, brutal action of Primal and the comforting pastel psychedelia of Bee and Puppycat. You’ve got a dozen shades of riveting family drama from Succession to The Righteous Gemstones. Even adding in all the franchise-expanding monoliths like Rings of Power, The House of the Dragon, and The Mandalorian barely scratches the surface. Most people I know have a to-watch list dozens of shows long whose combined length reaches far beyond the thousand-hour mark. So how can I convince you to add another one?

Simply put, On Cinema at the Cinema is like nothing you’ve ever seen before, and I don’t know if we’ll ever get another show like it again. The premise is simple: two men review movies on a low-budget webseries which is gradually derailed by the hosts’ personal problems. The show stars two titans of avant-garde comedy, Tim Heidecker (Tim & Eric, The Comedy) and Gregg Turkington (Neil Hamburger, Entertainment) doing career-best work as alternative-universe versions of themselves. It is – and I say this with a ton of respect for the network – probably the best show Adult Swim has ever been involved with.

If you’ve ever listened to a local bro’s intolerable, self-indulgent podcast, you’ll be pretty immediately taken in by On Cinema’s parody of the format. Without exception, Tim & Gregg’s reviews offer no real insight to the listener. They give almost every movie a perfect five-star rating and provide no information about the movie beyond its studio-provided summary, its cast, and its runtime. The lack of content is the show’s first running joke, but it’s almost immediately pushed to the background as Tim and Gregg layer in dozens of others while slowly building in hilariously high-stakes drama. If you’ll tolerate what is in this reviewer’s opinion a pretty benign spoiler: people DIE in this show. That’s right – there are times when this indie film-review parody show feels more than a little like a David Lynch side project.

Episode three features one of the hosts in clear distress for most of its runtime while his co-host mostly does nothing.

The other incredible aspect of On Cinema is that it splinters into a handful of other shows and projects over the course of its runtime. I personally found the show through Decker, a parody action show that the characters in On Cinema make to prove that they can do it better than Hollywood. It’s remarkable how funny and entertaining Decker is even without context, sporting spot-on parodies of tropes like vehicle montages, dramatic lines, and code-breaking scenes. It’s also totally the sort of thing you could show friends at a party to widespread appreciation – the sub-ten minute runtime of most episodes certainly helps.

Excellent parody songwriting and hilariously poor editing elevate Decker beyond stereotypical fare. Season 2’s “Our Values Are Under Attack” is a great showcase of what the series has to offer.

However, once you’ve seen On Cinema, Decker reveals a ton of in-jokes and connections to its source material and becomes that much richer. Every spinoff of On Cinema, from two-hour Oscar specials that inevitably end in tragedy to a full-blown fictional court trial, provides an arena for character development and wild plot swings that echo consequentially through the On Cinema universe. It may be an easy target, but Marvel’s (filmic) multi-universe world-building just looks laughable in comparison.

With On Cinema rounding the corner into its thirteenth season, there’s no better time than now to jump into the series. The series’ humor, ambition, and innovation are consistently top-notch, and the clear passion that is put into the show allows it to make the absolute most of its small cast and crew. My recommendation? Start at the beginning and give the first few episodes a chance. If you don’t end up liking it, you’ve lost a whole fifteen minutes of your life. If you do, well – you’ll find yourself in a universe as delightful and confounding as the one we live in now.

Image courtesy of Adult Swim

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