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Comedy Central has had an impressive run in recent years, upping its scripted game repeatedly and producing a number of cult shows just waiting for the rest of the world to catch up.
Its latest venture is also small and ridiculously funny, built around an absurd idea that grows increasingly clever as you watch. It’ s Big Time in Hollywood, FL, created by Alex Anfanger and Dan Schimpf (Next Time On Lonny), and starring Anfanger and Lenny Jacobson (Nurse Jackie) as Jack and Ben, two grown-up slackers living with their parents under the delusion that at any moment they will be discovered as brilliant filmmakers.
These brothers might not be Dumb and Dumber, but they’re not many zip codes removed either. They have a hilariously angry sense of entitlement as they mooch off and live with their parents (Kathy Baker and Stephen Tobolowsky), making what they think are mini-masterpieces in the garage and house.
The first episode starts simply enough — their parents are kicking Jack and Ben out in hopes they’ll get jobs. This is met with aggrieved swearing from Jack, highlighting Anfanger’s ability to curse and yell magnificently and hilariously, a gift he’ll put to use frequently in the series.
Jacobson is only slightly more sedate, as the two can’t believe their fate. “There’s so much more space if you just divorced dad,” Jack yells. “Yeah, he’s the crappiest dad ever,” Dan notes.
Baker and Tobolowsky work particularly well grounding the series. Their calm parental guidance tempers the extreme reactions of Jack and Dan, who often talk about their dad dying or soon to be dying or being out of the picture. It’s a joke that works to highlight their self-centered cluelessness, but it also grows ever funnier because it’s clear their father is really sweet (both Tobolowsky and Baker nail all their scenes).
In what quickly becomes the strong suit and bright idea of Big Time, this premise of kicking the kids out of the house very quickly gives way to comic insanity as the brothers hatch a plan to extort $20,000 from their parents to invest in their films. The plan, not surprisingly, goes horribly awry and gets Ben Stiller (the show’s producer) killed in one of those over-the-top scenes that’s funny because it goes three times farther over the top than needed. (The show also employs Michael Madsen and Cuba Gooding Jr. as the plot rolls onward.)
Big Time in Hollywood, FL works best because, like The Wrong Mans on Hulu, it takes a preposterous comic situation and turns it into a preposterous dramatic arc, which frees the show from any sitcom restraints and allows it to spoof both tired dramas and predictable comedies.
Schimpf, the director, does a superb job setting the right tone — from showing how the brothers perceive their work, to how it actually looks, and by allowing Anfanger and Jacobson enough room to work their comedy in outside environments and also tight, indoor quarters. You never lose the sense that Jack and Dan are hyperlocal Floridians, as far from the real Hollywood as possible.
Credit Anfanger and Jacobson with quickly establishing a connection as the clueless brothers with big cinematic dreams. And, of course, credit Comedy Central with keeping up its streak.
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