In the past few seasons of On Cinema at the Cinema, movies have become increasingly inconsequential. Comedians Tim Heidecker and Gregg Turkington’s niche, beloved “movie” “review” “show,” in which Heidecker and Turkington lampoon film criticism (as well as the film industry itself and, quite astutely, politics), has, instead, turned into a personality battle between two sociopaths. One (Heidecker) is an insecure, angry man, insistent upon making a spectacle of his personal life while he hawks various products and money-making schemes. The other (Turkington) is admittedly more of a cinephile, but not out of true appreciation for the art which he purports to champion. Rather, it’s out of the pure desire to prove his superiority over the other no matter the cost. Both Heidecker and Turkington (who keep their real names for their insane characters), have only contempt for one another and no true interest in film. Instead, the show—which began as a podcast in 2011 and went televised in 2012—largely functions as the home base for a constantly-evolving, increasingly deranged extended universe of their lives and creative pursuits, and a platform for these characters’ dueling egomania.
This is truer than ever in 2022, following the most recent season in fall of 2021. Despite hiccups due to the COVID-19 pandemic, On Cinema’s annual Oscar Special has continued to chug along for each of the past three years. The first one managed to air before the pandemic first surged, and the second, last year, was greenlit after Heidecker and Turkington were forced to leave Adult Swim as their series’ platform switched to an entirely fan-funded model. The joke of the Oscar Special is that, despite being an “Oscar Special,” the special doesn’t really have much to do with the Oscars (and even less so as the years have gone on). Tim vaguely checks in on the winners of each category with little interest, there is typically some movie-related theme to the show itself; Gregg dresses up as a movie character, Tim performs his revered “Oscar Fever” song.
But beyond that, the On Cinema Oscar Special is mostly a three-hour long, near-entirely improvised variety show that strengthens the already-taut threads of absurdity that act as the show’s foundation, and which lead to new plot developments that ripple out into future seasons. One year, recurring player and eternally-besieged actor Mark Proksch (Colin from What We Do in the Shadows) was propped up and dressed as a “living Oscar” while stuck in a coma. Another year, Tim brought back his dead son Tom Cruise Heidecker Jr. as a hologram. Another year (and possibly the best Oscar Special to date), Gregg arrived to the set in a “mobile museum” dedicated to the 1982 film Arthur while dressed as the Joker. He then left the car exhaust on, nearly killing Tim and all the guests at Tim’s televised wedding to Toni Newman (Terri Parks). Though vastly different every year, the Oscar Special is always unhinged, always going completely off the rails by the end of the actual Oscar ceremony.
This year was no different, Season 12 (the series’ first season using the fan-funded model, requiring a subscription at the fictional “HEI Network” to watch) having followed the arc of Tim being cheated on by Toni early on in the season while drunk at her own birthday party, off-screen, with one of Tim’s bandmates from his music group, DKR. Toni is committed to rehab, and eventually has an epiphany and breaks things off with Tim. Tim is also attempting to push new cryptocurrency and a health drink called “RJ’s Smoothies” that he needs to have pumped into his stomach directly, and he is later abandoned by his spiritual guru “Dr. San,” who killed himself in Season 9 and who Tim believes he is able to communicate with from beyond the grave.
And so, Tim enters the ninth annual On Cinema Oscar Special in a particularly precarious state, with the event taking place outside at the newly-minted “Hei Ranch,” in the desert near Los Angeles. The ranch is another means for Tim to extend the tendrils of his burgeoning empire, as he essentially plans for his vast plot of land to be turned into his own little civilization. After some extended technical difficulties with the live stream and various inane events during the special—like Mark Proksch gravely injuring himself while tumbling down a hill dressed as Spider-Man, two people wandering around the set dressed up as Scooby-Doo and the MGM lion, Gregg’s recreation of “Wonkaland” from a sneak peek at the Wonka prequel Tim Burton is apparently making, a look at a fake DKR documentary, a montage of director cameos in their own movies (most are wrong), and various screaming matches between Tim and Gregg—things culminate with the cast and crew being shot at by snipers and Tim begging to be mowed down by a truck. It was an all-time great Oscar Special. If you (like me) are a subscriber and have access to the stream replay, and you place your cursor at any random timecode, you will be dropping in on a completely unintelligible moment every time.
At one point around the beginning, Tim openly expresses disdain for the Oscar ceremony, wondering why people would want to tune in to it when they could be tuning into the On Cinema Oscar Special instead. Any other year this would be accurate, and even during the first two-thirds of the 94th Academy Awards it was more accurate than it had ever been before. The official Oscar ceremony has been turned into such a dull display of hacky jokes and disrespect towards the films the show claims to be honoring that it matches the very nature of the On Cinema Oscar Special itself. But then, of course, the slap happened, and the Oscar ceremony quickly slid into a surreal state for the remainder of the broadcast. I had been spending my own Sunday evening with the Oscars mostly muted in the background on my television, while the On Cinema Oscar Special remained unmuted on my laptop (even though the latter is not necessarily something that demands your undivided attention for the full three hours). But I was fully taken out of the special for most of the remainder when the infamous slap occurred. For the first time ever, the actual Oscars outdid On Cinema in absurdity.
In the end, it is a testament to the declining reputation and quality of the Academy Awards that it could finally come close to matching—let alone outdoing—the ridiculousness of the On Cinema Oscar Special. On Cinema acts in defiance of the tightly-wound superficiality of the Oscar ceremony, and pure absurdity is what On Cinema-heads like myself have come to expect of the show. But to see the Oscars themselves become undone alongside On Cinema is bizarre to behold. Like the series which unintentionally gave way to one of the most damning political satires of our time, Mister America, On Cinema once again eerily proves that it is less a caricature than a mirror.
Brianna Zigler is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts. Her work has appeared at Little White Lies, Film School Rejects, Thrillist, Bright Wall/Dark Room and more, and she writes a bi-monthly newsletter called That’s Weird. You can follow her on Twitter, where she likes to engage in stimulating discussions on films like Movie 43, Clifford, and Watchmen.