The folks behind some of my favorite series of the past decade talking about the TV comedy business? Yes, please.
Golden Fiddle has a transcript of a panel discussion with David Cross (Arrested Development, co-creator of Mr. Show), Bob Odenkirk (the other co-creator of Mr. Show), Chuck Tatham (writer, Arrested Development), and Wonder Showzen creators Vernon Chatman and John Lee.
You want a my personal picks for the best TV stuff of 2006? Sure, no problem. You also want my personal picks for the worst TV offered in 2006? Well, that's somewhat of a challenge. If I don't like something, I don't watch it, but I agreed to list my favorite and least favorite things about TV, so let's get the negative stuff out of the way first.
On November 20th, TBS will be airing a taped performance of the Henson gang performing improvised, uncensored comedy at the Las Vegas Comedy Festival. This isn't the warm and wacky Muppet comedy of yore. Puppet Up! Uncensored! is blue comedy developed by a whole new team of writers and performers looking to bring a fresh voice and renewed primetime supremacy to the Henson name. In addition to the improv performance, TBS has ordered up 30 episodes of Uncensored for its forthcoming broadband channel and remains in negotiations over the semi-improvised late night talk show project.
Wonder Showzen is MTV2's deliciously adult take on mid-70s children's programming like Sesame Street and The Electric Company. Mean-spirited puppets, befuddled children and subversive guest star appearances by the likes of Amy Sedaris and David Cross abound.
The lunchbox gift set will hit shelves on December 12th. The set contains Seasons 1 and 2 of MTV2's cult hit, which means no new content, but hey, cool lunchbox.
It is indeed a sad day, fellow fans of Wonder Showzen. In an interview with Radar, show creators Vernon Chatman and John Lee have said that MTV2 has still given no official word on whether their subversive, blood-soaked, drug-addled tribute to children's shows will return for a third season. Currently, Lee says the answer is about "ninety percent 'no'" as to whether or not the show will return.
As is the case with most shows that includes kids dressed up as a dead Pope, dozens of scenes segmented on the screen and played simultaneously, a dog pulling a baby from a pregnant woman's womb while she's being killed in an electric chair and puppets dry humping the Bible, Wonder Showzen had a devoted fanbase but never got the ratings that would make a network want to keep it around. It's not much consolation, but the second season does come out on DVD today, so you can always pop it into the ol' DVD player and remember the good times. Also, the brains at Adult Swim have expressed their love for Wonder Showzen, so maybe there's still a small glimmer of hope for the show after all. Keep the faith, brothers and sisters.
Ever since getting a Tivo a little over a year ago, I no longer watch TV shows when they actually air. When I'm not catching up with what's on my recorder, I'm either reading, listening to podcasts, or pounding out a blog post about what I'm watching on television. The big deletion from my Tivo Season Pass this year is House. I still admire the show, but for me the magic is gone. The season opener sat on my Tivo for quite a few days, unwatched. When I finally sat down to view it I realized, about fifteen minutes into it, that I had completely lost interest in it. I didn't even finish the episode, and took it off my Tivo for good. Perhaps my attitude will change in the coming weeks, but who knows? Anyway, some of these shows are winding down their current seasons, some have yet to air. All times are Central because I live in Minnesota.
I really need to read Joel Stein more often because the man is quite an entertaining read. In his latest column he takes a few shots at Elmo, which may seem like the equivalent of a grown man kicking a preschooler in the face, and it is, but he does seem to have a legitimate beef with the little red Muppet. Now, I usually dismiss tirades against Elmo as uniformed, because most of them accuse him of being somewhat low in IQ compared to the other Muppets on Sesame Street. The thing is, Elmo's character was evolved from a background character in such a way as to give him the mentality of a preschool age or younger child, someone the toddlers could relate to while their older siblings enjoyed other aspects of the show. Stein sees that as a real problem, however. To him, and to Wonder Showzen creators Vernon Chatman and John Lee, who he also quotes in his column, Elmo is a solipsistic creature infinitely infatuated with himself. As Stein puts it, "We are breeding a nation of Anna Nicole Smiths." Being 29 with no kids, I don't follow Sesame Street that closely anymore, but like a rock band that's way past its prime, it sounds like the show's glory days are way behind it now.
The second season of Wonder Showzen, MTV2's hidden subversive gem, will be out on DVD on October 17. If you haven't seen the show, it's essentially what Sesame Street would be if the writers and performers injected LSD directly into their brains before taping every episode. The set will include all eight episodes from the second season, outtakes from the "Clarence" and "Beat Kids" segments, a Wonder Showzen storybook, and assorted games, featurettes and other nonsense. You know, DVD-type stuff. Besides being one of the funniest, sickest, and oddest shows to ever hit the airwaves, the show also featured a lot of great comedians in guest roles, including Amy Sedaris, David Cross, Zach Galifianakis, and Jon Glaser.
It has become clear from the last couple episodes of Wonder Showzen that the creators like to mess with people, whether it be people on the street or the people at home. Last week's episode, which was devoted entirely to a show-within-a-show called "Horse Apples," coupled with this episode which consisted of nothing but Clarence telling people on the street they could make better TV and then leaving the camera on them while they either stare blankly, pontificate, or get angry, both seem to stem from the same dadaistic mindset that made Andy Kaufman both hysterical and frustrating. This, I guess, is both a praise and critique of the show. On one hand, it's embracing the kind of "anti-everything" attitude a show like Wonder Showzen should have, but the gag doesn't feel especially new.
Stepping back and looking at this season as a whole, and disregarding the last two episodes, I think it was pretty solid, and if the show gets renewed for a third season, I would expect to see more great episodes with gags packed in so tight you have no choice but to watch episodes more than once to catch everything. I also expect more episodes like this last one, where they take a few risks and try something different so some guy can write some boring blog post about the philosophy behind it all. And honestly, I think that's great. Exceeding expectations is always cool, but when you flat out refuse to even try to meet expectations ... well, it doesn't make for great television, but I admire that kind of moxie.
I'm a big fan of Wonder Showzen, not only because I find it subversive and hilarious, but also because the show can make a person downright uncomfortable at times with some of its graphic scenes. I recall an animated segment in a recent episode in which a dog pulls a bloody fetus out of a woman while she's being killed in the electric chair. That's just one example of many in which the show tries to simultaneously tickle both your funnybone and your gag reflex. This has led me to the conclusion that John Lee and Vernon Chatman, the creators of Wonder Showzen, should make a horror film. I think the surreal, visceral approach they sometimes use could result in a horror flick that's truly unique. I imagine something along the lines of Dario Argento's films, horrific but oddly fascinating at the same time. I doubt they have any intention of doing so, but they could, that's what I'm saying.
(S02E07) You know, it's like sitting down for chocolate ice cream and getting strawberry ice cream instead. Sure, you like strawberry ice cream just fine, and heck, it's better than no ice cream at all, but you were still expecting chocolate.
Last night Wonder Showzen did what I could only describe as "pulling a Terrance and Phillip" and dedicated an entire episode to a show within a show. None of our usual puppet pals were around for this episode, instead we got to watch a half hour of Horse Apples, the Hee-Haw spoof which we first saw in the episode titled Knowledge. Now, if you go to the official MTV2 site for the show, they have the episode listed as "Mathematics," which as far as I can tell is actually the season finale, set to air next week. I have no idea what the title of this "not really an episode" episode is supposed to be, but if anyone knows for sure, inform me in the comments.
Vernon Chatman and John Lee, the creators of the cult hit Wonder Showzen, have created a funny animated short for Comedy Central's Motherload site called "Golden Age" (or "Marching Gumdrop: The Sweet and the Sour"). The short chronicles the rise and fall of Marching Gumdrop, part of a group of anthropomorphic refreshments who promoted the snack bar at the local theater. Finding himself broke and out of work, Marching Gumdrop changes his name to "Jerome" and tries to make it in Hollywood as a gossip columnist and occasional guest star. Also, he almost dies from trying to eat himself. To check it out, go to the Motherload site and click on "Web Shows." It's much tamer than their work on Wonder Showzen, but still darn funny.
Update: The short is actually done by the animation studio who does animated shorts for Wonder Showzen, not the creators. Thanks to bill for the clarification.
(S02E06) If there was any doubt in my mind about the brilliance that is Wonder Showzen, it was put to rest by last night's episode, which was by far the funniest and most insane episode so far this season. There are a lot of comedic elements that come easy for Wonder Showzen: the gross-out humor, the surreal twists, and the acid-induced logic, but what really makes the show for me are those moments when it outright defies the viewer to keep watching. Last season they did it with the episode "Patience" in which the whole last half of the episode was just the first half of the episode played backwards. In this episode, after a fight breaks out between the regular show and a bootleg knock-off of the program, they decide to split the television screen 60/40, so the audience can watch both shows at once. Eventually more and more shows begin to take over the television screen, which resulted in four minutes of sometimes as many as eight segments all being shown simultaneously at equal volume.
(S02E05) Last night's episode of Wonder Showzen was incredibly surreal, even for Wonder Showzen. The show began with a science fair in which Sthugar reveals a propeller beanie powered by sadness, and Wordsworth creates a television which shows his dreams. Unfortunately, Wordsworth's deepest fears manifest themselves into an actual monster who escapes the TV and wreaks havoc on the town. Chauncey demands Wordsworth face his fear, but Wordsworth is too afraid. Therefore, Chauncey and Him use Him's shrink ray (which doesn't actually shrink an object but instead makes everything else bigger, giving the illusion of shrinkage) and journey into Wordsworth's brain in order to bypass his free will and make him fight the giant monster. The segments inside Wordsworth's brain included some great meta moments, especially when they find themselves inside his short term memory center and they become sensory echoes themselves, multiplying and repeating into infinity.
1. Aqua Teen Hunger Force: A lot people have told me that I would love this show. I love f***ed up animated shows, I like pop culture-centered comedy, and I like the idea that the three main heroes are fast foods. But I just can't get into this show. Maybe it's the pace of the show, or the writing, or the fact I always have to really, really listen to Meat to understand what the hell he's saying, I don'ty know. But I'm just not into this show.
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