Half the fun of watching Big Time is enjoying the blatant and sneaky film homages the creators like to wend into each episode. That can range from something as blatant (and hilarious) as the Shawshank Redemption adaptation they open this episode with, or the nods to hyper-stylized werewolf films like The Howling that close out the half-hour.
The other 50% of the time, you should be marveling at the absolutely ridiculous situations that every character in the show finds themselves in. That could be Ben, suffering through a stint in rehab while listening to stories of a former addict smoking crack out of his friend’s skull or having a strange girl show up to collect his pee in her hand. Or it’s Ben’s dad trying to get Jack a car and dealing with the slimiest salesman of all time. Or it’s Ben’s mom who decides to hire a private detective (played with unctuous glee by a bewigged Michael Madsen) to follow Del around as she is convinced her sons’ friend is the person who got Ben strung out.
The coup de grace is Jack. Already upset that he’s been forced out of his parents’ home, he loses it when he realizes how good his brother has it in rehab (free food, the TV is on all the time, and mandatory naps). Naturally, he decides to become an addict to get himself some of that sweet, sweet caretaking. The sequence with Jack, strung out on coke and running through the woods like a feral beast, is one of the funniest things conceived by this show’s writers yet, and Alex Anfanger throws himself completely into his character’s manic drug-fueled freakout.
We also have to give further credit to the casting of screen vets Stephen Tobolowsky and Kathy Baker as Ben and Jack’s parents. If you had the kind of parents that, despite their anger and frustration, don’t dare use actual swear words or really try to let their aggravation show in any marked way, you’ll recognize the archetype in the performances of these great character actors. Their comedic additions are so subtle but so vital to the success of this show.
Another secret is to keep bracing yourself for the conceptual and narrative curveballs that keep getting hurled at the viewers through each half-hour. That can be little details like the taxidermied dog sitting on the private investigator’s desk, the re-appearance of the pee girl in Ben’s room wearing a strap-on made from a doll’s arm, or the rehab nurse turning from sugar sweet into foul-mouthed fury. Nothing gets played straight in this show. And thank God for that.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.