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If you were asked to anoint a Rod Serling for the new millennium, chances are good that most of you would not pick Bobcat Goldthwait.
This is probably because a majority of viewers still think of Goldthwait as Zed from the Police Academy franchise or as a stalwart of 1980s stand-up specials, rather than as the director of trenchant and twisted, but decidedly niche, films. Going back to Shakes the Clown, through World’s Greatest Dad and God Bless America, Goldthwait’s films have traced a shift in the American Dream and the American family dynamic that has ranged from smartly reflective to borderline prescient. There aren’t many auteurs, in fact, whose unfiltered vision I’d be more interested in seeing as the centerpiece for an oddball anthology series.
AIR DATE Jul 11, 2018
For the dozen or so people who feel the same, truTV is set to premiere Bobcat Goldthwait’s Misfits & Monsters on Wednesday. Through the three episodes sent to critics, Misfits & Monsters is a predictably hit-and-miss mixture of amusingly bizarre, strangely inspired and interestingly misfired with a lot of potential to grow and evolve.
Misfits & Monsters is an eight-episode genre-spanning anthology series. Each half-hour was written and directed by Goldthwait and the casts are a mixture of familiar comedy stars including David Koechner, Seth Green and Michael Ian Black, as well as frequent Goldthwait collaborators like Tara Lynne Barr, Bryce Johnson and Alexie Gilmore, plus Bridget Everett, who starred in the Goldthwait-directed Amazon pilot Love You More (which surely would have gone to series if it hadn’t premiered when Amazon was in the midst of turning its executive ranks upside-down). The series is also a family affair, with Goldthwait’s daughter Tasha doing costumes and brother Jim serving as assistant director.
Instead of starting each episode with a Twilight Zone-style introduction, the installments end with a few minutes of behind-the-scenes interviews and footage, in which Goldthwait both reaps praise and distributes credit generously.
Of the episodes I’ve seen, the only real dud is the third, “Devil in the Blue Jeans,” which takes the form of a music mockumentary exploring the disappearance of a Justin Bieber-esque pop star, a vanishing that leads back to Satan himself (Black). Even though this installment is visually flat and its attempts at euphemism-heavy pop parodies fall well below the Lonely Island standard, the premise still has some interesting twists and a couple snort laughs.
Much better is the middle episode, “Face in the Car Lot,” a Face in the Crowd parody set in the ’70s but not-so-subtly meant to reflect our contemporary mores, in which Koechner plays an anti-intellectual auto dealer who rises to political prominence because the American people don’t care that he’s brash, ignorant and, well, a werewolf. Even once you get past the main single joke, which gets carried out in zany fashion, the episode is a note-perfect reproduction of its period aesthetic with the sort of detailed sets and costumes you wouldn’t expect from a quick 21-minute story. You won’t have a hard time parsing the Trumpian subtext, but Goldthwait is having fun taking our current political insanity to its logical not-so-logical extreme. It helps that Koechner is in blustery fine form. For all the obviousness of a few jokes, this was a world in which I would happily have spent more time.
The series’ premiere, “Bubba the Bear,” doesn’t have quite that same long-form resilience, but it admirably fills its brief time period with the tale of a cartoon voiceover artist (an enthusiastic Green), who begins to question his own sanity when his most popular vocal creation, an obese bear named Bubba, takes exception to the way he’s being interpreted. It’s a simple and familiar gag, with its Roger Rabbit-esque blending of animation and live-action, but again it’s executed at a high level and it pushes a couple gags impressively.
The reality is that this format is perfect for what is so superficially amusing about Goldthwait’s worldview, but it isn’t all that well-suited for what he actually does best, which is starting a story in a place of near-grotesquerie and mining unexpected humanity out of the muck. What’s so impressive about Goldthwait’s film work, and also what makes it such an inquired taste, is that you begin his movies in a place of discomfort and general unpleasantness and end in places of unexpected emotion and sometimes even hope. This episode length simply isn’t time for that full journey to take place, so you feel like you’re getting a glimpse into his brain — truTV has even made that visual into key art for the show — without really getting to root around.
If Misfits & Monsters is successful, I hope truTV and Goldthwait will continue to explore ideas and formats, because there’s a lot of potential here.
Cast: Michael Ian Black, Bridget Everett, Dave Foley, Seth Green, Melissa Joan Hart, David Koechner, Danny Pudi
Creator: Bobcat Goldthwait
Premieres: Wednesday, 10 p.m. ET/PT (truTV)
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