Beef House is the first Tim and Eric show to feel too familiar. Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim have built their careers on upending expectations and conventional notions of comedy. They’re equally at ease playing with tropes, stereotypes and stock formulas as they are blowing everything up and producing something barely even recognizable as comedy, but the end result is something that’s always unmistakably Tim and Eric.
Beef House reaches that point, too, in time. This bitter parody of ‘80s and ‘90s sitcoms—particularly Miller-Boyett Productions’ raft of “TGIF” sitcoms for ABC—has the tonal qualities and absurd angles you’d expect from Tim and Eric. Still, it’s hard to watch it and not think about Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett’s similar parodies for Saturday Night Live, or Bojack Horseman’s ‘80s sitcom Horsin’ Around, or even Adult Swim’s own Too Many Cooks. The four-camera setup, the laugh track, the intentionally unfunny lines, the cliched scenarios, the bland and anonymous suburban home: Beef House hits every note you’d expect from this kind of parody, and at first it seems like an unusually obvious and uninspired misstep from the two.
Tim and Eric costar as good buddies who now share a house with Eric’s wife (Jamie-Lynn Sigler, from The Sopranos) and three other friends (conventionally unconventional Tim and Eric collaborators Ron Austar, Tennessee Luke and Ben Hur). The five men call Eric’s well-appointed house the Beef House, and are known collectively as the Beef Boys, and no, neither name is ever explained, at least during the first two episodes. Austar, Luke and Hur all have the kind of outsider-y, non-actor amateurism you expect from Tim and Eric’s shows, and initially they seem like an aside in both episodes—a bit of superfluous weirdness on the edges of the show that exists solely to connect Beef House to Tim and Eric’s previous work.
Fortunately Beef House doesn’t reduce those three solely to set dressing. Austar, Luke and Hur might seem at first to barely interact with Tim and Eric or an episode’s storyline, but over the 12-minute running time the show’s various strands interweave. The secondary Beef Boys aren’t just absurd outliers—they become entwined with the plot in ways both minor and major, injecting their own absurdity into the stock sitcom stories Tim and Eric are mocking. The journey is similar to Chris Elliott’s brilliant Action Family special from the 1980s, an on-point formal parody that gradually devolves into absurdity.
What ultimately sets Beef House apart from those Mooney and Bennett videos—and what elevates it in the process—is the show’s inherent Tim and Eric-ness. Yes, it’s funny, and a smart deconstruction of the weird quirks and affectations that can build up over decades within a genre as prescribed as the sitcom. It’s also grotesque, though, and genuinely sinister at times. There are “jokes” that are so dry and repellent that you might not recognize them as jokes, and plot points and visuals that are as interested in testing your patience and nerves as they are in entertaining you. Although it’s rooted in the look and language of embarrassing old sitcoms, Tim and Eric’s artistic voice quickly steamrolls through it, leaving an intentional, carefully crafted wreck in its wake—one you’ll have a hard time looking away from.
Beef House premieres on Adult Swim at 12:15 a.m. Sunday night / Monday morning.
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.