Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule returns for its fourth season on Adult Swim tonight after last airing in 2014. A spin-off from Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, the cable access show parody—with an absurdist twist—stars John C. Reilly in the titular role, playing Channel 5’s socially awkward life guide.
From filming in a bare-bones studio to conducting manchild-on-the-street interviews with nonactors, the brilliant, Oscar-nominated Reilly often takes his idiot savant character to some pretty dark and twisted places for laughs.
Created and executive produced by Reilly with Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, Heidecker explains during a recent press event in L.A. that viewers this season can expect five episodes of Check It Out! and one episode of a brand-new show called Stevie! that’s a new show format for Brule. Heidecker says, “It’s like an early morning Live!, like a ‘Kathie Lee’ kind of show.”
Heidecker compares the upcoming Stevie! episode to last year’s half-hour Bagboy special, a failed sitcom for Channel 5 that Brule wrote, directed and starred in. (The Check It Out! episodes are usually 15 minutes long.) In Bagboy’s laugh-track filled pilot, Brule played a Myers Super Store employee tasked with deterring shoplifting. “One of the conditions John had for wanting to do more [Check It Out!] was ‘Can we just mix it up a little more?’ Just make sure there’s at least one episode that’s not just the same thing,’ which we love, too.”
Otherwise, Check It Out! is sticking to the “formula” that’s made it a cult classic. (Decidedly, its subtle and sometimes uncomfortable comedy isn’t for everyone.) “It’s always from the perspective of ‘What would it look like on Channel 5?’” Heidecker says. “That’s the world of the show. We’re very protective of that world and want to make it feel very genuine and real. And it doesn’t work when you don’t have that, like it feels like a sketch—it doesn’t feel real.”
Also adding that extra sense of reality are Brule’s on the spot interviews with unsuspecting subjects. In the Season 4 opener, which Brule dedicates to cars, one subject’s #RBF says it all—he’s annoyed—when Brule points out the bags under his eyes. “The interviews are not scripted for the most part,” Heidecker confirms. “We have some suggestions and options to go to, but generally, we like to just let it go and see where it goes.”
Heidecker says that even though the interviewees might not know exactly what’s happening, they know that it’s a comedy show, “They know that it’s a character and at the end of it, everyone’s kind of laughing and breathing a sigh of relief. We’re not trying to make anybody feel bad.” He thinks about that for a second, then adds, “I guess to some degree we are, but not by the end of it.”
Upcoming subjects that Brule tackles this season include eggs, music and crime. “That’s sort of how these episodes start,” Heidecker says. “We go, ‘Let’s do an episode about eggs.’ And then you got to figure out…what about eggs?”
Without a fully fleshed out script, the show relies largely on Reilly’s intrinsic knowledge of his character. “There’s sort of an outline, and there’s some beats we want to try to hit, and we talk about it before,” Heidecker says. “Then [Reilly] goes into his space, into that secret place where the character comes alive. We just start rolling and kind of try and steer it in a certain way, but let it be its own thing.”
Check It Out! with Steve Brule is deliberately unpolished and raw, with the producers not worrying too much about the show’s resultant image quality. Instead of cleaning up each episode, the Check It Out! editing team does the opposite: The editor bangs on a VCR to get the jumpy cable channel look and quality on screen.
“Not a joke,” Heidecker says. “We have VCRs here. We’re constantly needing to replace them with new ones. Some of them are too old, and [the film] becomes unwatchable, so you have to find that right balance. They go up there and bang on it because you can’t do it any other way. There’s no filter for that. No special effect that does that.”
This process gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, “We’ll fix it in post,” but it somehow seems fitting for the uncommon comedy of Check It Out with Dr. Steve Brule.
Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter or “Instagram”:https://www.instagram.com/christineziemba/.