HBO seems like an appropriate place for the animated comedy series The Life and Times of Tim, since it seems most closely influenced not by the rapid-fire absurdism of The Simpsons, nor the scattershot pop-culture shitshow that is Family Guy (sorry, not a fan), but by its network cousin Curb Your Enthusiasm. Like Larry David, our hero Tim is not a perfect protagonist--indeed, he is frequently rude, insensitive, or unfeeling. But he is also often a victim of circumstance, a guy who finds himself in the wrong place and the wrong time and reacts candidly and honestly, and must deal with the consequences--often to hilarious effect.
The set-up is all about simplicity. Tim (voiced by series creator Steve Dildarian) is an average, soft-spoken twenty-something New Yorker; he has a steady, long-suffering girlfriend named Amy (Mary Jane Otto) and has a cubicle job at the faceless Omnicorp, where he works with his best buddy Stu (Nick Kroll) and often suffers at the hands of his boss (Peter Giles).
That's pretty much all there is to it--each episode consists of two stories running ten to fifteen minutes each, finding Tim embroiled in an awkward or embarrassing situation which he tries (often fruitlessly) to slither out of. Aside from its loose character strokes, The Life and Times of Tim also shares Curb Your Enthusiasm's loose, shambling lack of storytelling discipline; it's a laid-back show where the humor is based not on punch lines but on characterization and timing. Here, for example, are a few the funniest lines from the show:
- "Let's not lock that down."
- "That story took a weird turn."
- "Don't bother Marie."
- "That's not a genre of humor."
- "I think that story could really catch on."
- "I feel like I should interject at this point..."
- "That plan was not well-executed."
- "I don't like where this is going."
And so on. On paper, those are not laugh-out-loud lines--they're not much of anything at all. But the show has a dry, unassuming comic style, given extra zip by Dildarian's languid, Ray Romano-esque delivery, and there's just something inexplicably funny about the way that Dildarian (who is also credited as the show's writer/director) and his cast build their comic situations. If the series bears a resemblance to any other animated shows, it is occasionally reminiscent of the overlapping dialogue and improvisational vibe of the late, great Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, or the early years of Home Movies.
The first segment is one of the show's best, and for good reason; as a stand-alone animated short, "Angry Unpaid Hooker" won the Best Animated Short award at the 2006 Comedy Arts Festival. It certainly gives us a warts-and-all impression of our protagonist right from the jump-off; in it, Amy and her parents return from a cruise, only to find Tim lounging in their apartment with Debbie (voiced by Bob Morrow), the title character. This is, to top of it off, the first time Tim has met his girlfriend's parents. "Wow, that was not a good first impression," Tim remarks afterwards. "Was it because I mentioned the back-door action?" Debbie asks, to which he quickly replies, "It didn't help!"
Other strong episodes include "Monday Night Confessions," in which a freewheeling priest invites Tim and Stu over to his loft apartment, to drink beers with his girlfriend, watch "Monday Night Football," and do quickie confessions at halftime (when the priest gives himself eight Hail Marys for an unpaid handjob, Tim notes, "That's not a lot," to which the cheerful priest replies, "It's more than seven!"); "Tim, Stu, and Marie," in which Tim tags along on Stu's date with HR head Marie, which she interprets as an invitation for a threesome (when she puts on Kansas' "Dust in the Wind," Tim objects: "That is not good threesome music!"); "Suck it Philly," featuring the wonderful Jeff Garlin as Stu's dad; and "Insurmountable High Score," in which Tim fails badly at making amends with the mail guy (Him: "You're not very good at cheering people up, are you?" Tim: "It's not my specialty!")
The show's eagerness to shock sometimes results in gags that aim lower than its considerable intelligence, and some episodes (like "Theo Strikes Back" or "Tim vs. The Baby") seem to just end because they've either run out of time, or run out of ideas. Those complaints aside, The Life and Times of Tim is a smart, funny show, and its long-awaited second season (beginning this month on HBO) will hopefully maintain its high standard of low-key hilarity.
The anamorphic widescreen image is crisp and solid, about right for a mid-budget animation series. It's not like looking at a Pixar film, but the lines are clean and the bold colors are nicely saturated, with no noticeable defects or compression artifacts.
The 5.1 audio track might seem like overkill for a low-key, dialogue-driven animated series, but it's a surprisingly dynamic mix, taking full advantage of occasional immersive environments (restaurants, bars, street scenes) and occasions for panned directional sound (like the traffic in the last episode). The LFE channel is robust as well, particularly in the bass-heavy strip club scene and the over-produced HR video that frames Tim and Stu ("I just wanna say, that was some unnecessarily high production value," Tim notes). Dialogue, meanwhile, is crystal clear in the center channel.
Here's the only place where the two-disc set comes up short; all we get for bonus features is "Awkward Moments" (8:16 total), which is basically a collection of ten funny but brief deleted scenes, wildly overadvertised as "a collection of ten animated shorts." Uh, no.
It's very specific style and sense of humor (as well as its lack of taboos) may not appeal to all audiences, but for those tuned in to its quirky, character-based wavelength, The Life and Times of Tim is a real treat.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their daughter Lucy in New York. He holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. His first book, Pulp Fiction: The Complete History of Quentin Tarantino's Masterpiece, was released last fall by Voyageur Press. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.