Three Busy Debras, an absurd parody of suburban privilege that premiered on Adult Swim in late March, bears many of the hallmarks of the channel it airs on. It’s short, it’s ridiculous, and it couldn’t really exist on any other network. Despite those surface similarities, it offers something that Adult Swim has openly struggled with for its entire history: it’s made by women.
Created by Sandy Honig, Mitra Jouhari and Alyssa Stonoha, who have performed live under the same name for years, Three Busy Debras is as surreal as you’d expect from an Adult Swim show. Its 12-minute episodes are basically short films that weave together two or three different comedy sketches built on a similar theme, with scenarios that are based in something resembling reality but always spiral out into absurdity. It’s the kind of show where a pool boy vacantly tends to a driveway with a pool net, where the neighborhood’s mailman is an iguana, and where the police station looks like the waiting room for the kind of doctor who refuses to accept insurance.
At the heart of this weirdness are the three Debras themselves, played by Honig, Jouhari and Stonoha. Dressed all in white, living in immaculately clean suburban homes that are practically identical from the outside, and all driving Escalades, the three Debras are busy with endless brunches where they laugh wildly at each other’s stories without actually listening to them. It digs deep into the vacuousness of these artificial suburban lives, as well as the selfish isolation of wealth and privilege, manifesting a clear political identity that’s both very timely and a bit weightier than the typical Adult Swim show.
Yes, these Debras are awful. They treat their domestic labor as disposable playthings, not even flinching when they murder a pool boy. They don’t hide how little they actually care for each other, even while talking insincerely about how much they love each other. They embody the “let me see your manager” vibe of well-off white women that anybody who’s worked in retail or has a Twitter account knows all too well. The possibility of an interior life is the most frightening thing they can think of, as when a sleepover turns into a horror movie when one Debra insists on getting to know the others.
Still, the show has some empathy for them. They’re still victims. They live in a world where women can instantly have their tubes tied if they make a mess in public, which is a perfectly dystopic, Handmaid’s Tale-style touch. The show’s entire ethos is summed up in a scene in this weekend’s episode where two Debras, held captive in a comfortable bed that’s made entirely too well, explain that they’re obsessed with order and control and always have to be in charge because their lives are otherwise meaningless. The three Debras are terrible people, but it’s the society they live in that made them that way.
Yeah, you can call Three Busy Debras a cartoonish reflection of bourgeoisie anti-suburb displays like American Beauty or Desperate Housewives, which try to flatter and pander to the very audience they’re supposedly satirizing. That’d be selling the show short, though. It’s not just criticizing the culture it parodies—there’s not much skill or inspiration in that, after decades of similar TV shows, movies, and punk music videos. It takes on not just suburbia and the media that depicts it, but targets the socioeconomic conditions that created them—as well as our history-long subjugation and diminution of women—with a gleeful, nihilistic absurdity, wrapped around a core of weary indignation. And then it even makes fun of itself when it seems like it’s getting too close to a message. The Debras themselves might be afraid of their own humanity, but Three Busy Debras tacitly indulges in it.
Three Busy Debras airs on Adult Swim on Sunday nights / Monday mornings at 12:00 a.m.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.