The Office’s series finale airs tomorrow night, and while it has certainly had its highs and its lows, it cannot be denied that it left behind an unforgettable legacy of cubicle parkour, Jell-Oed corporate property, and yes, true love. Here are some of the Grantland staff's favorite highlights from its nine-season run.
Viral video factory Funny or Die threw its hat into the Steve Jobs biopic ring just about a month ago, and today it beats the Ashton Kutcher–starring jOBS and Untitled Aaron Sorkin–penned Steve Jobs Biographical Motion Picture Classic to the punch with iSteve, a 78-minute parody biopic (yes, the parody now precedes the parodied) starring Justin Long and written and shot by FOD staffer Ryan Perez in 10 days. It features a supporting cast including Jorge Garcia and James Urbaniak, and a fourth wall–removing narration device deeply indebted to the 2012 Lifetime movie Liz & Dick. If you haven't got 78 minutes to spare in this fast-paced digital world of ours, at least skip to the part where Jobs drops acid with Billy Corgan (Paul Rust) at Woodstock '94.
First of all: We missed you, Don Pardo, and I really hope you’re recovering from your broken hip. I’d send you an edible arrangement of candied Z-Shirts if I could. Feel better.
I am familiar with Kevin Hart, and I like him. His energy and delivery have the effect of making me slowly scoot toward the edge of the sofa until I’m basically doing a wall squat. It’s as if he’s telling a particularly engaging story at a loud party, and during his monologue I was thinking that this episode was going to be something special.
As a stand-up, Anthony Jeselnik has carved out his own space with punchy one-liners that play verbal ping-pong with topics most others wouldn’t touch: disease, rape, cancer, death, baby death. Nothing was off-limits. The idea was, “Fine. If no one else will talk about them, I will.” Now, with his own show on Comedy Central, that sheer abuse of the envelope has moved to late night. Last night, I sat down with Jeselnik right after the taping of The Jeselnik Offensive’s second episode to talk about his early stand-up career, what he took from his time as a writer on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and choosing between comedy and the bullshit that often comes with it.
So I want to start with your stand-up. I remember seeing you do Comedy Central Presents, but when was that?
I want to say I did it in 2009. I remember being on Fallon, and I remember it airing around the end of Fallon, which was in 2010. So late summer 2009, I recorded it.
Oh Adam, you human bandsaw. Welcome back, hon. On their way to Staten Island during a wild dog chase, Ray tries to make contact with Adam by blathering aimlessly about sex (like he always does), prompting Adam to reveal that what turns him on is a woman who's comfortable in her own body, regardless of age or type. Hannah certainly fits that bill and always seemed open to exploring any strange position Adam put her in, physically or emotionally. Ray tries to prod Adam into talking shit about Hannah, but Adam is a chivalrous ape who disapproves of gossiping behind her back. He praises Hannah's often disastrous ethics because he respects her misplaced sense of justice. (Wait, does Hannah have a fetish for Libertarians?)
Jessa finally created a problem that she couldn't blag her way out of with charm and good looks. Her narcissistic posh charm was on trial at dinner with husband Thomas-John's parents, resulting in a split verdict. While she was able to flirt her way (as always) into Thomas-John's dad's good graces, it was at the expense of alienating his mother, who was not here for Jessa's bullshit. Thomas-John was also flustered, as he fully realized over his Peter Luger meal from hell that Jessa was never going to do anything besides precisely what she wants to do, ever.
Louis C.K.'s dictatorially controlled sitcom/weekly short film/art project/sometime comedy-delivery system Louie will wrap its third season tonight on FX. It's been a tremendous run: Heightened plot coherence, including two multi-episode arcs; unforgettable cameos by Parker Posey, David Lynch, and Melissa Leo, along with welcome spots from Robin Williams, Marc Maron, Maria Bamford, Paul Rudd, Susan Sarandon, and Jerry Seinfeld; advanced prowess in the filmmaking, scoring, and writing. Even in the few wonky moments, it's been a pleasure to witness C.K. whittling this series toward further excellence the way he did with his stand-up act and his business acumen. While Sir Szekely has built the show around his nonexistent need of assistance, we're in for a long, bitter Louie-less stretch of months after tonight's finale, so we're gonna daydream about Season 4 for just a moment. Here are 10 humble requests for a man who takes orders from no one.
Tom Scharpling is beloved in the alternative comedy world for his call-in radio show The Best Show on WFMU. While The Best Show has run for more than 10 years, Scharpling has continued to diversify his résumé, including writing for the entire eight-season run of Monk, contributing articles to print and online publications, and doing a periodic podcast with Marc Maron called The Marc and Tom Show. In 2010, Scharpling began directing hilarious concept-heavy music videos for indie rock acts. These videos often feature appearances from comedians, including his Best Show partner and Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster. His videography includes a trailer for a fake New Pornographers biopic and Titus Andronicus doing a one-day tour of New Jersey.
Recently, Scharpling directed the video for Aimee Mann's "Charmer," which features Mann buying an increasingly assertive robot, played by Laura Linney, to handle her public appearances. This week brought the premiere of "Labrador," his second collaboration with Mann. The video for "Labrador" is a shot-for-shot remake of "Voices Carry," the breakthrough hit by 'Til Tuesday, Mann's group from the 1980s.
Almost exactly two years ago, comedian Chris Gethard got his big shot. After a decade of working in the trenches at New York's Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, watching brigades and fleets and battalions of his friends go on to become SNL/Daily Show/NBC-Thursday-Night soldiers, he landed the lead role in Comedy Central's Big Lake. Co-starring Horatio Sanz and Chris Parnell and co-produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, it was the network's attempt to get into the Tyler Perry model of quickie syndication (Charlie Sheen's Anger Management is currently on the same path). If the show had been renewed after its initial 10-episode run, it would have been picked up for an additional 90 — which, according to Gethard, would have netted him an instant $2.2 million. Making things even nuttier: Gethard got the part real late in the game, after original star Jon Heder had dropped out, and so didn't have much time to mentally transfer from "broke guy living in Queens apartment without working shower" to "sitcom star." Meanwhile, the media attention around the show centered on the unlikely tale of Gethard's late-breaking success. And then, of course, the show failed. Big Lake wasn't picked up, and sank ignominiously into the trash heap of canceled crappy sitcoms.
But here's the feel-good part. Afterward, Gethard brushed himself off, went back to New York, went back to doing his thing. And today, IFC announced they're in business with Gethard. The network has ordered a pilot script for a show based on Gethard's recent memoir, A Bad Idea I’m About to Do: True Tales of Seriously Poor Judgment and Stunningly Awkward Adventure. You can't hold Chris Gethard down! You can't do it! Don't even try!
So. You’ve got Josh Brolin for the week. Josh Brolin, who — goatee or no goatee — can pass for most U.S. presidents, a young Most Interesting Man in the World, Satan, Tommy Lee Jones, anybody on Mad Men (including Megan), characters not yet introduced, and even a handsome human version of a pit bull. He’s at your disposal. And yet your only guests on Weekend Update are Garth and Kat? Why was that? Did Josh Brolin eat all of the bagels at craft services except for the whole wheat ones? Were you somehow offended by the way he ran majestically through the slow-motion hallway, dripping viscous, slow-crawling sauce from one beaker to another, so offended that you also kept it offline so I couldn’t embed it here? Do you remain suspicious about his legal troubles? Or is it — as I have long suspected — that the Garth and Kat sketches belong under the complicated striped umbrella of Comedy Mind Control, and that they appear on SNL whenever the government wants to send us subliminal messages in the form of improvised (wink wink, government) horrible songs with lyrics like “when I look out my window I see a birdbath,” lyrics that don’t make you laugh but that make you listen carefully (and then resent having spent your attention on them)? I don’t understand. I know that last weekend’s musical celebration of spring was likely the unmelodic swan song of Garth and Kat, but I don’t care. Josh Brolin was just sitting there!
Every week in this space, Grantland pop culture correspondent Andy Greenwald will run down the happenings and mishappenings in NBC’s Thursday comedy night done mostly right. (Note: The order reflects newsworthiness, not quality. Although occasionally the two just might overlap.)
Over a five-year period beginning in 1998, HBO premiered Sex and the City (1998), The Sopranos (1999), Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000), Six Feet Under (2001), and The Wire (2002). That’s a DiMaggio-esque streak of hits, unparalleled in the unpredictable, ego- and money-fueled world of television. Which makes sense considering that at the time the network didn’t consider itself in the television business at all: It was in the HBO business. Unlike ossified, regular old TV, HBO was an exciting new world where breasts could be bared, F-bombs could be dropped, and Brian Benben was considered a leading man. The premium channel was blessed with an executive team committed to empowering cranky creators — can you imagine giving notes to David Chase, David Simon, or Larry David? — and an operating ethos that wasn’t tied to antiquated notions like “advertising” or “ratings.” Part of what HBO was selling was prestige: These were shows unavailable anywhere else, serialized conversation starters that dominated water coolers and Internet message boards. If you didn’t want to be left behind, you’d pay for the privilege of watching them. Sure, the shows were brilliant, but it isn’t hard to game the system when you’re playing by different rules.
So HBO’s mid-decade hiccup — that creative trench that brought us Unscripted (an improvised show about George Clooney’s girlfriend’s acting class) and Tell Me You Love Me (an overly ambitious gamble on America’s appetite for televised hate-fucking) — wasn’t just a result of visionary executive Chris Albrecht being forced to resign in disgrace. It was representative of a larger shift in the small-screen landscape as even the most obscure cable channels began to realize that investing in narrative series could instantly put them on the map, or at least liberate them from the lower 400s on Time Warner’s ever-expanding grid. The more attention-getting and risk-taking their offerings, the better. HBO was still HBO. But TV? That was quickly becoming HBO, too.
First, it's time for another losing Thursday night football pick! I'm grabbing Jacksonville +12.5 points in Atlanta for the simple reason that the 2011 Falcons shouldn't be favored by that many points over anyone except the Rams and the Indianapolis Orlovskys.
OK, so last night was a big for the BS Report studio: the great Louis C.K. stopped by for a lively chat about his new comedy special ("Louis C.K.: Live at the Beacon Theater"), his superb FX comedy Louie, the story behind the famous Dane Cook episode, the ups and downs of his standup career, his creative process, and topics like "Why does Hollywood try to meddle so much with creative people?", "Can Chris Rock become a serious actor some day?" and "Is it OK to want to beat up kids in your daughter's school without actually beating them up?" Somehow we babbled on for two parts without ever mentioning Boston (he grew up there), the Celtics (he loves them) or boxing (his favorite sport). Maybe next time.
The best thing on the Internet this Saturday was Louis CK's $5-per-download middleman-eliminating standup special Live at the Beacon, the "In Rainbows" of standup specials featuring jokes about babies with big dicks. The best thing on the Internet today is CK's equally un-middlemanned Reddit Q&A, in which he discusses retaining creative control by making his TV show for a too-low-to-quote price ("the budget for the first season was cough dollars and the second season was sneeze"), the possibility that he'll self-finance a movie if his next crazy DIY experiment "tears an asshole into the money monster who then shits dollars into my mouth (oh my god what's wrong with me)", and whether or not his Afghanistan episode "Duckling" was actually filmed on location in the Graveyard of Empires ("it [was] filmed in Santa Clarita California which is not technically in afghanistan.") It's all amazing and inspiring, because Louis CK is a monster who poops "amazing and inspiring" into the mouth of the culture every goddamn day. But we particularly enjoyed this exchange from early in the chat, in which some authentically touching how-to-be-a-dad advice is couched within an anecdote about comedy groupies.
There just aren't many videos out there whose first five seconds can cause both an explosion of laughter and a wave a sadness to crash over me, but comedian Henry Phillips' second episode of his "Henry's Kitchen" series does just that. As the mournful piano soundtrack lumbers through its minor chord progression and a pair of meaty paws struggle clumsily to cut an onion, you know immediately you are about to watch the saddest, loneliest, more regret-filled cooking demonstration ever. Are we watching fiction? Should someone check on the real Henry to make sure things are ok? This feels too real. Oh, and the recipe looks terrible, but I'd eat Henry's chili five nights a week if I could guarantee many more videos like this.
Krister Johnson is a comedian and writer in New York. Follow him on twitter@kristerjohnson