I’m the first to admit that I’m an easy mark when it comes to visual entertainment. I’m the first one to fall for plot twists that my friends and family see coming from a mile off. And I laugh really quickly even at the hackiest of jokes in a network sitcom.
It’s also put me on edge with a lot of new stuff that I watch. I wait for the big turn to happen or the big reveal to be…um…revealed. More often than not, I get exactly what I expected. But every so often, I’m genuinely surprised and thrown by something that I couldn’t have anticipated. Something like Ben Stiller, portraying a hacky actor done up to look like an ersatz Tony Montana, getting gunned down by the DEA in a parking garage. Did not see that coming.
That’s why I think I’m going to enjoy the hell out of Big Time In Hollywood, FL, the new half-hour comedy created by Dan Schimpf and Alex Anfanger, the two gents behind the wildly inventive and often-surreal web series Next Time On Lonny. This new Comedy Central get (produced by Stiller) takes the same sensibility of their short YouTube premises and blows it up to IMAX levels of insanity.
They set it up in a perfect way, giving us Jack (played by Anfanger) and Ben (Lenny Jacobson), two shiftless dudes in their 30s, still living with their parents and still harboring delusions that they are great filmmakers in the making. As the show opens, the pair are making a tense cop drama, using their family’s gardener as a cast member. The whole scene is filmed with Antoine Fuqua/Michael Bay-levels of flair. Then the garage door goes up and the whole facade is revealed. Then we see the results of their filming and it’s as hacky and amateurish as the two men are.
As we move forward, the two get the bombshell dropped on them that their parents (a perfectly cast Stephen Tobolowsky and Kathy Baker) want them out. They then cook up a deliriously cockamamie plan to extort $20,000 from their folks by claiming that they need it to pay off a drug dealer. That’s where Stiller’s character Jimmy Staats comes in; he is a former drug addict performing a motivation speech at an NA meeting that they boys hire to scare mom and dad into paying up.
At this point, I was expecting the wheels to come off. The parents agreed to give this bad guy his money so quickly that I was sure they were either in on the whole thing or at least smart enough to know they were being scammed and ready to teach their children a lesson. Instead, mom calls the DEA, who arrives in force and riddle Staats with bullets. Again…there I was sitting and waiting for it all to be a big production that Ben and Jack’s parents staged to scare the boys. Nope—he was dead.
The final stinger of the episode leaves the door open for the death of Staats to hover over this first season that will likely come back to haunt Ben and Jack. But even without that, I have to applaud Anfanger and Schmipf for taking what could have been another dull retread of slacker comedy tropes and launching it into unexpected territory. Big Time has my attention now. Let’s just see if it can hold it for nine more weeks.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.