The 2008 IFC series "Z Rock" stars Paulie Zablidowsky, David Zablidowsky, and Joey Cassata in a semi-mockumentary one-camera comedy where they play exaggerated versions of themselves; the scripted-premise/adlibbed-dialogue format is obviously inspired by "Curb Your Enthusiasm," with just a pinch of "The Office" thrown in for good measure (and a bit of "The Monkees" unintentionally copied, too). But none of those shows' senses of cleverness show up here outside of minor doses, especially as the season rolls on and it becomes clear that there's not much more to the show than sex as a punchline and self-mocking celebrity cameos.
The trio, both in real life and on the show, double as Brooklyn-based hard rock act ZO2 and kid-friendly party band the Z Brothers. There's a genuine market for "cool" kids' music - just ask They Might Be Giants and former Del Fuegos frontman Dan Zanes - but the show ignores most of that scene, instead making the band slightly ashamed of their "day gigs." Well, when the plot requires them to be, that is; sometimes they look like they're really enjoying their show, having a blast with the youngsters, while other times they're mortified to discover that ZO2 fans have found them out.
Which is a shame. There's a great series to be had about a hip children's music act, even one that's as raunchy and totally not-at-all-for-kids as this series, but "Z Rock" is too confused to work from this angle. We never get a full understanding of the Z Brothers as a side act. They're famous enough to be known by kids all over, yet they're also obscure enough to remain relative unknowns. They're successful enough to have at least one album released, yet they're also available enough to play bar mitzvahs on a moment's notice. They make no efforts to hide their "dual identities," yet panic whenever someone connects their two bands.
Do they encounter other kid-friendly acts? Only once, in the form of Kidtastic, a Wiggles-esque group parodied to cartoonish extremes (by members of the unfunny sketch troupe Whitest Kids U Know) in an episode that departs too far from the reality the series is hoping to construct, yet not far out enough for the lack of reality to be the joke. (The Kidtastic gang wears t-shirts bearing the initials "F," "A," and "G" to a gig, yet fail to realize their blunder, har har.) The rest of the kid-band jokes all center on crummy gigs and sex with horny moms; we never get to experience the world of children's music beyond a couple bad birthday parties.
The series is so unsure of how to handle the double-life premise that it ultimately abandons it altogether. Aside from a mention here and there, the season's second half is simply about a rock band, no twist. They gave up.
The leads, all newcomers to acting, aren't solid enough comics to bring the funny, and most of the time their ramblings come off as annoying. Jokes are tired, especially the running gag about the club manager (Big Jay) who insists he's not gay yet keeps making with the sexual advances. (The scripts, meanwhile, repeatedly show the brothers as womanizing sex hounds, letting you know these guys are, like, totally not gay.) Slightly more successful is Lynne Koplitz as Dina, the band's manager; a veteran comic, she's quick with a sharp adlib, even if most of her material is saddled with lame set-ups and repeat appearances by Dina's aunt, Joan Rivers, playing herself with the sort of iffy results "Joan Rivers as herself" might suggest.
John Popper shows up, also as himself, in a recurring role as Dina's ex-lover. This show reimagines the singer as a crazed-out psycho with odd sexual fetishes and Machiavellian tendencies. And Popper's terrific in the part, gleefully playing the weirdo villain. But then the series goes overboard with the concept, bringing in other celebs to mock their own images (most notable is Dave Navarro as a drugged-up freak who gives whisky to kids), and we realize the show doesn't have any other ideas. It's content to run with the same gag - just reworked for each new guest star - for the rest of the season.
For a season that's only ten episodes long to grow tiresome and repetitive, that's a serious problem. I haven't seen the new season, which premiered last month, but if the series is to continue, it better learn to expand beyond the handful of situations it dished out the first time around.
Anchor Bay collects all ten episodes on the two-disc set "Z Rock: Season 1." The discs are housed in a single-wide keepcase with a hinged tray.
Video & Audio
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen doesn't improve much on the broadcast look of the episodes, but that's alright - colors and detail are crisp, digital interference is absent. The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is basic stuff, with clear dialogue right up front; things don't get rich until the musical sequences, which are rather well handled with a nice amount of depth. Optional English SDH subtitles are provided.
"Behind the Mayhem" (12:44) is a general EPK-ish making-of featurette, with cast interviews explaining how the show reflects real life, how celebrity cameos fit into the picture, etc.
Four on-air IFC promotional pieces offer quickie fluff to help sell the series during commercial breaks. "Advice from Joan Rivers" (2:01) has Rivers and Koplitz in character, giving brief rundowns of the three band members. "Brookyln Meets Hollywood" (2:01) highlights more of the celeb guest appearances; it's mostly behind-the-scenes shots of the band goofing off with the guests. In the plainly titled "Montage" (2:01), we get a pile of leftover behind-the-scenes clowning around; it's essentially a gag reel minus the bloopers. And "Behind the Scenes" (2:01) tosses us a few crew interviews before giving up and just having the cast beg the viewer to watch the series.
The piece labeled "Music Video" (3:24) deals up clips from the Dave Navarro episode and some extra Joan Rivers adlibbing before actually getting to a minute-long sampling of one of the band's songs set to random performance and behind-the-scenes footage.
A trailer (1:45) for the series rounds out the set. Previews for other Anchor Bay releases play as the first disc loads.
If you're into the quasi-improvised style of comedy on display here, you might find a few laugh nuggets throughout - but nothing here's a keeper. Rent It.