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[This year, for the first time, Sundance has dedicated a special section to the episodic format, recognizing the variety of independent episodic shortform programming for online as well as traditional television. The Indie Episodic slate includes Steve James’ docuseries America To Me and six “programs,” featuring multiple shows.]
If I’ve struggled to put a finger on the theme of a couple of these Indie Episodic blocks, Indie Episodic Program 4 is easy: These suckers are all weird. Very weird. The animated Tammy’s Tiny Tea Time, the relentlessly meta The Show About the Show and the indescribable Tropical Cop Tales aren’t necessarily all alienating or off-putting, but they’re definitely proof that even in a 450-plus scripted program TV universe, there’s still a fringe.
Air date: Jan 23, 2018
Caveh Zahedi’s The Show About The Show is the one Indie Episodic entry to be playing Sundance with the start of its second season, meaning that we already know that there’s some audience and some positive reception for the Bric TV production.
Jumping viewers into two episodes of the second season of a show was practically daring viewers to experience Zahedi’s show about the making of a show, and in this case about the reaction to the first season of the show about making the show, in the most disassociated way possible. That’s appropriate, because The Show About The Show is a whiplash-inducing shaggy dog story, a digressive tale in which there’s never any way or reason to trust the director-star’s version of events because he’s an easily distracted and completely unreliable narrator. As self-referential as the show already was, the screened episodes added a meta layer since they featured flashbacks to a prior Zahedi appearance at Sundance and several attempts to sell either this show or some other show to a Netflix, Hulu, Amazon or, most prominently, Viceland.
It’s an utterly dizzying show with some of the fastest, most frenzied editing I’ve ever seen in a comedy, jumping around in time and perspective and in different shadings of the truth, jumping around within the series and within the series within the series. The aggressiveness of the storytelling maybe feels like a perpetual distraction from the lack of introspective on the process within the storytelling, but that’s also part of the point since the “there” of the series is being a series in which there’s no “there” there.
The best way to process The Show About The Show may be to download it to your phone and then watch as you’re spinning around in circles.
That’s definitely a more accessible viewing experience than Tropical Cop Tales — it’s a play on words and not a sophisticated one — which feels like the kind of thing you might stumble across at 3:13 in the morning on Adult Swim and, if you were coming down after a 36-hour bender of booze and something hallucinatory, you might be in exactly the right frame of mind to embrace what is an epic celebration of garish ugliness, unnecessary shouting, self-amused repetition, multi-colored bodily fluids and old people in Speedos.
The story of urban cops Keymarion “Primetime” Weeyums and Demetrius “Meechie” Franks (Charles Noland and Wayne Dehart), transplanted to an island paradise only to find themselves investigating a serial killer known as the Throat Ripper, Tropical Cop Tales actually was, I believe, shot for Adult Swim, though I don’t know if it remains in that sphere. All some viewers will need to know is that it hails from director Jim Hosking (The Greasy Strangler), who co-wrote with Toby Harvard.
It’s brazen and fueled by a general disgust with human behavior and biology. It cuts no corners, whether our heroes, playing off of countless TV and movie pairings of grouching black cop/white cop pairings, are torturing a suspect by boiling his face and popping the heat blisters or using a viscera-dripping intestine as a weapon. Like The Show About The Show, Tropical Cop Tales is exhausting. The pilot’s is 23 minutes and feels twice that. As it wears you down, though, it’s got an absurdity that made me laugh, especially when it plays around with genre conventions like a suspect yelling, “I’m not saying shit until my sexy lawyer gets here” or the potential big bad appearing out of the fog on a poorly lit road and giving his name, his alliance and announcing, “I am a criminal!” It also has a premise-explaining theme song and I’m a sucker for those. I also think it’s possible that Dehart is giving a great, crazed performance, not that I’m sure and not that I’d necessarily be eager to watch more to find out.
From this program, the series I’d be most eager to see more of is Tammy’s Tiny Tea Time, from animator Peter Gulsvig and writers Daniel Shepard and Diana McCorry. Such as it has a plot, it’s about a 42-year-old woman who comes home from work and puts on a magical hat that allows her to shrink and have tea with her warped toys including a perverse Southern belle baby doll, an addled tortoise and a gay toy soldier, who would all prefer to do anything instead of playing with Tammy. All it took to sell me on the show was the episode in which Tammy’s arrival interrupts the toys’ book club reading of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. It’s the little things.
It’s all well-voiced by Rachel Butera, Nate Corddry, Jeremy Bent, Gulsvig and McCorry.
The program included three episodes of Tammy’s Tiny Tea Time with the actual “tea time” followed in each installment by a quick string of blink-and-done shorts, some playing off of classic children’s animation. All were twisted. All were a properly weird glue holding together a weird 79 minutes of episodics.
Tropical Cop Tales
Director: Jim Hosking
Writer: Jim Hosking and Toby Harvard
Creators: Mel Jones, Devita Scarlett, Kady Kamakate
Cast: Wayne Dehart, Charles Noland, Carl Solomon, Nicole Crump, Brian Russell
The Show About The Show
Director: Caveh Zahedi
Producer: Aziz Isham
Cast: Caveh Zahedi, Amanda Field, Ashley Foy, Emmy Harrington, Peter Rinaldi, Karley Sciortino
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