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Funny or Die Presents: Season Two
Quick hits of comedy undone by longer ones
Loves: Half the comedians in this series, sketch comedy
Likes: Funny or Die (the site)
Dislikes: Comedy that's too hip for the room
Hates: Overly-long sketches
The Story So Far...
FunnyOrDie.com, Will Ferrell and Adam McKay's highly-popular website hosting bite-sized comedy from a vast number of funny people, both known and unknown, gave comedians an outlet for concepts too short for TV or movies. But as things have a way of doing, the idea came full-circle, and the creators brought the idea to TV, with a half-hour HBO anthology series of Funny or Die-style material made just for television, hosted dryly by Ed Halligan, Head of West Coast Sales and Marketing (Steve Tom) and his army of attractive secretaries. The first season arrived on DVD in January of 2011, and DVDTalk has a review of the set.
The purpose of FunnyOrDie.com always seemed to be to give funny people an outlet for exploring ideas that didn't fit into traditional format, like a sketch show without the limitations of a sketch show (or a TV show at all for that matter.) Being able to check out short bits from any number of creators meant you could pick and choose what you watched, and if something didn't tickle your fancy, you just moved on to the next one. Moving back to TV from the site meant embracing those same limitations, but with the potential for reaching a wider audience. That begs the question, who is this show for? Is it for the fans of the site? They're already visiting the site, so why do they need a TV show? Is it for non-Internet viewers? If so, why not just edit together the material they know works online and show it on HBO, with a few new sketches mixed in?
Either way, the 10 episodes that make up the show's second season already exist so, let's just focus on them. There seems to be more repetition this time around, with several recurring sketches, along with the addition of the "Movie of the Week," longer, sometimes multi-part short films that take up as much as half an episode. If one of these doesn't work for you, you're writing off a large portion of the episode, which goes entirely against the site's concept. While they sometimes feature the series' bigger stars, including Kristin Wiig, Thomas Lennon, Rob Heubel and Tim and Eric, they feel like they drag a bit simply because they have the time to waste.
Rather than do an overview, here's a breakdown of the sketches, including how many times they appear this season:
"Do You Want to See a Dead Body?" (four appearances)
Easily the best executed concept this season, this recurring sketch sees Heubel rope a celebrity pal, including Deepak Chopra, Ben Stiller, Warren Sapp and Rachel Harris, into going on an expedition to see a dead body. Though the journey is half the joy, the way the celebs react to the experience is just as enjoyable, whether it's Chopra's philosophical musings or Sapp's childlike joy. Heubel's personality though is key to selling the concept, which is gratifyingly different every time.
"Terrible Decisions" (two appearances)
These quick-hit concepts starring Ben Schwartz (Parks & Recreation) making poor choices are swift and silly and probably could have returned more often without offense. The second is the better entry, with Schwartz modeling various awful outfits for two pals, in an effort to find the perfect ensemble, wrapping with a great pay-off.
"Reenactments of Actual Conversations From the Ladies Rooms of Hollywood" (four appearances)
From Andrea Savage (of the first season's enjoyable "Casual Sex"), these sketches are just what the title says, featuring ridiculous dialogue overheard in the loos of La-La-land. Though a bit inside in terms of subject matter, as the women talk about auditioning and wrap parties, but the jokes are universal enough for anyone to enjoy, including Retta (Parks & Recreation) expressing how little Paul Rudd impresses her character. Another example of a perfect FOD concept.
"United States Police Department" (three appearances)
Starring June Diane Raphael and Seth Morris, these Law & Order-like cop sketches are similar to Raphael's [adult swim] series NTSF:SD:SUV::, but a bit more disgusting, with the first one focusing on stolen buttholes, including Raphael all but fisting a victim. Taking Law & Order's investigations to the extreme, they are just over-the-top enough to stand out from the pack of similar parodies, but be aware, the final entrance basically throws everything out the window and wallows in all-out slapstick madness.
"Juggalo News" (four appearances)
Considering how SNL has driven its Insane Clown Posse-inspired sketches into the ground, these sketches, now nearly two years old, should be covered with dust, but making a straight-faced nightly news parody centered around the juggalo concept just works (and would have killed at the ICP's peak.) Focusing on a difference segment each time out, including finance, entertainment and human interest, there's not a lot to them, outside of the ridiculous names (like anchor Krazee Thug Nutz), various facepaint designs and insertion of thug language into traditional news writing, but the contrast of the two sides is enough for an enjoyable sketch concept.
"Adam West Hits on You...Hard" (three appearances)
This may be the simplest concept this season, and depending on how funny you find the former Batman, it may be the least funny, as West, sitting at a bar, with drink in hand, simply says a terrible pick-up line to the camera each time. Perhaps we're supposed to be laughing at West, but he's far more entertaining as the nutty mayor on Family Guy.
"Brick Novax's Diary" (four appearances)
This memoir, recorded by a dying man recounting his wild younger days, is told via stylistically photographed fashion dolls, and feels a bit like the baby of Todd Haynes' Superstar and animator Carson Mell's work. Told in voiceover by the formerly bad-ass Novax, who has done and seen everything, the stories seem like they could be the life of a less-humorous Rob Burgundy, and are more of an artistic accomplishment than a comedic one.
"Tijuana Jackson: Life Coach" (three appearances)
Romany Malco's recurring sketch about a ne'er-do-well who decides to become a life coach and motivational speaker (with a camera crew trailing him for an eventual television show) just feels like the same joke over and over, as he keeps professing that he's trying to help people, including his nephew and a woman looking for cat food, but is chasing trouble instead, trying to cheat on a drug test and attempting to pick up said cat-food seeking woman. Each time it appeared was the least entertaining moment of the series.
"Paco Dances" (Movie of the Week)
A stereotypical tale of a Hollywood newcomer done in by fame and its trappings is saved by two things: 1) the newcomer is a bird, and 2) the bird's agent is played by Brett Gelman. Though his lengthy cat sketch was the low-light of Season One, here he's hilarious, guiding Paco down the path to destruction. The bit is too long, but it does feature a three-way between a bird, porn star Lexi Belle and Gelman, so there's that.
"Welcome to My Study" (three appearances)
Easily the creepiest sketch this season, Mitchell (Mitch McGee) sits, sings and shows you things in the drawers in his study. It's hard to get across how disturbing the concept is in words, as the ultra-calm Mitchell quietly sings about his study, but try to picture some of Tim & Eric's creepier sketches and you've got an idea of what you're getting here. The final episode, with Zach Woods (The Office), kind of blows the mood, but it's still strange-enough to be worth watching.
"John and Will's Animal Choices" (Movie of the Week)
Combine Ferrell and John C. Reilly with Tim and Eric and the results are sure to be bizarre, and that's certainly the case here, as the disturbing duo guide the former stepbrothers in a greenscreen shoot where they portray animals. Unfortunately, though they are bizarre, they aren't as funny as you'd hope.
"The Amazing Adventures of David & Jennie" (one appearance)
David Neher and Jennie Pierson are nowhere as famous as their castmates in this series, but I'd argue they are just as entertaining, as this sketch, which centers on a fun time at a an arcade and dreams of Abraham Lincoln, proves clearly. Eternally sunny, the pair earns laughs where they might not otherwise exist, making for a good time from start to finish.
"It's Gert" (one appearance)
"Welcome to My Study" may be creepy, but this faux sitcom, starring the elderly Gert, Jimmie Walker and a long-haired Asian man, is probably the most uncomfortable sketch, to the point where it's surprising that Tim & Eric's names aren't attached. During the trio's camping trip, Gert often interrupts to tell awkward one-liners in cutaways, making for one of the more unusual sketches in the series, and a pretty entertaining one as well.
"Death Hunt Pt 1 & Pt. 2" (Movie of the Week)
An all-star cast is the reason to tune in here, with Rob Riggle, Paul Scheer, Heubel and Jack McBrayer on hand to tell the story of a couple guys away on a hunting trip that turns deadly. There's a lot to like about this short film, including gratuitous swearing by McBrayer and Riggle's trademark tough-guy act (this time tempered by an allegiance with the Lord.) The only negative is the length, but there's a legitimate story to enjoy here, along with all the silliness.
"Men of Unquiet Desperation" (one appearance)
"Tijuana Jackson: Life Coach" is the least enjoyable sketch on this set, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have competition. David Koechner plays an awful talk-radio DJ who berates his listeners and co-workers, but has a problem when people don't treat him right. Based on the opening credits, this was set-up as a four-part concept, but there's only one segment this season, which may point to how the series viewed the finished product. It's hard to find a laugh in here, unless you didn't get enough of the other blow-hards Koechner's played throughout his career.
"Lady Refs" (four appearances)
Lead by Rachel Dratch and Lennon Parnham, this faux drama series takes a peek inside the competitive world of female youth soccer referees. If that sounds ridiculous, it is, and the series takes that ridiculousness, slaps a coat of lesbianism all over it and runs with it to fantastic effect. If Dratch and Parnham weren't enough to tempt you, guest appearances by Chris Parnell and Bill Hader should certainly do the trick.
"The Burn Unit" (Movie of the Week)
Remember how I said that "Tijuana Jackson: Life Coach" had competition for the least enjoyable sketch? Here's the other leg of that terrible triangle. Four women track down one of their cheating men to exact revenge on him. Perhaps it's a cultural thing, but I couldn't find a joke if I had an electric joke-finder. It features Luenell, who I am told some people find funny.
"Sticky Minds" (Movie of the Week)
So, you've got Kristin Wiig, and you're making a comedy show, so...you'd think you'd give her something funny to do, right? Not if you're the makers of "Sticky Minds," who smartly made her a bystander to a pancake-eating contest between two geeks in love with her (one of whom is played by Adam Brody.) It's a sufficiently odd sketch, fitting the template, but you can't help but wonder why Wiig is so uninvolved in the comedy.
"Songs for Our Dogs" (one appearance)
Continuing a huge Tim & Eric influence this season, this strange little commercial parody features three ineffective singers who recorded albums to play for dogs. Though the sample performances are fine, it's the team's usual last-second freakout that sells the bit.
"Terrorist on Flight 77" (Movie of the Week)
This would be the perfect example of an FOD sketch if it didn't run so dramatically long. In essence there is one joke, as Thomas Lennon, playing the co-pilot of an airplane, continuously questions the directions given to him by an obviously nervous co-worker, who may look a bit like a terrorist. The lack of a satisfying ending after all the pipe-laying is probably the biggest sin however. It's hard to complain though when you get to watch Lennon and Ben Garant at work.
"Body Boys: Legend of the Pipers" (one appearance)
A true Tim & Eric sketch, with the added bonus of a Natasha Leggero appearance, makes this strange history of surfers who surf without surfboards an enjoyable entry late in the season. It's got all the hallmarks of a "Great Job!," including the bad special effects and strange sexuality. If the continued existence of the FOD series means more Tim & Eric, that's all the raison d'etre it needs.
"Boobie" (Movie of the Week)
By its nature, FOD invites plenty of boundary-crossing styles and similarities with other sketch series are likely. Here we get a sketch that easily could have been one of the Samberg-era Digital Shorts on SNL, as two natty fellows (one of which is Elijah Wood) face off in a large empty room, in a battle that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but the oddness draws you in as you try to understand just what it is you're witnessing.
"Jeff Baker: Junior College Professor" (one appearance)
Another perfect example of an FOD sketch, with Fred Willard as a college professor actively engaging in sexual harassment of one of his students. The gag is in and out quickly, and when delivered by Willard, it's quite funny.
"Crazy Town" (Movie of the Week)
This short film about two friends on a road trip into insanity is like a less charming version of a Tim & Eric sketch, filled with strange animation and surreal madness. Yes, some of the visuals are interesting, but there's a lot of repetitive meaningless madness that the film's length can't support.
"The Terrys" (Movie of the Week)
Yes, this film features Tim and Eric, and has a lot of the gross-out gags they are known for, with the duo acting as a drug-addled, sore-covered couple, but it just doesn't have the same feel as their usual material. That the story takes a severe left turn three-quarters in and becomes something quite different doesn't help it become more entertaining.
"Baby Boss" (one appearance)
The idea of a super-serious office drama populated by suit-wearing babies is adorable and fun, but add in a pair of women and have one of them seemingly seduce their baby boss, and it crosses the line from funny to creepy in a big hurry. I'm open for a lot, but this just felt wrong.
Like the first season, the second series of Funny or Die Presents is split over two DVDs, and are packed in a standard keepcase with a tray for the second disc and an insert listing the contents of each episode. The discs feature animated, anamorphic widescreen menus offering options to watch all the episodes, select shows and adjust the set-up (inside of the episode selections, you can select individual segments. Audio options include English Dolby Digital 5.1 and French 5.1, while subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French, along with closed captioning.
The anamorphic widescreen transfers looks as good as it did last time out, delivering the show's range of quality well, from the smooth video of some of the films to the lo-fi nature of several of the shorts. Issues with compression artifacts were not noticeable, color and black levels are appropriately translated and there's a nice level of fine detail.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks do a nice job of presenting the show's audio, offering some decent sourcing in the center and surround speakers, creating more of a cinematic feel than you might expect from a series that originated online. The side and rear speakers help pump up the music and sound effects in spots, but don't expect anything dynamic in the presentation as far as directionality goes.
Once again, there's no bonus content. How about throwing some of the better online sketches in?
The Bottom Line
People beat up on SNL pretty consistently, but at least that series is dealing with short deadlines, a limited cast and the fact that the show is live. Take those limitations away and add in some of the best comedic talents working today and what's the excuse for not being consistently funny? Well, there is no excuse, and this season of Funny or Die Presents is a 10-episode version of your average SNL episode, with some very funny moments and a lot of OK segments that will appeal to niche audiences. The set looks and sounds good, but again, there's no bonus content, so the set lives and dies on the show, making it hard to recommend for more than a rental.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.