Tonight (Sept. 18), Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim return to Adult Swim. This time, though, the duo is doing something a little unexpected. That’s something they discussed going into the project.
Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories isn’t out for laughs the way their previous endeavors, like Tom Goes to the Mayor and Awesome Show, Great Job! were. Gone are the commercial parodies, everyday people as actors and other things people came to expect with Awesome Show. “We just felt like we played that to every angle,” says Heidecker.
There are funny moments in Bedtime Stories, but it’s also pretty terrifying. “We’re not doing spoofs of horror movies,” says Heidecker. “I feel like this is an unsettling, feel-bad comedy show.”
Wareheim says that the show is close in spirit to directors they admire, like David Lynch and Todd Solondz. “Sometimes on the surface it’s just a normal story of, you know, a father and a family,” he says, “but there there’s this undercurrent that this guy is a really fucked-up person. That kind of balance is what we really like to play with.”
Heidecker uses the word “nightmare” a couple times during our interview, and that kind of pacing is what they have achieved in Bedtime Stories. “Hole,” the premiere episode, starts out with an awkward encounter between neighbors. As the 11-and-a-half minute episode progresses, the events grow increasingly more disturbing. By the end, viewers might jump up from the seats. That’s nothing compared to “Toes,” which starts out with a doctor who fulfills unusual requests. Heidecker mentions plastic surgery—”the nonchalantness that we have about cutting things off or adding to our bodies”—as an inspiration for the episode.
“It just felt like it would be fun if there was this world where removing toes was sort of a normal thing,” he says. Sounds gross, but that’s not all of what’s in the episode. It’s just the mild part.
“We didn’t realize how intense it was going to be,” Wareheim says.
“We showed it to John C. Reilly yesterday when he stopped by the office, and he had a very visceral reaction to it,” adds Heidecker. “He basically almost vomited.”
Wareheim mentions another episode set for later in the season. He says he showed it to his girlfriend and they had to follow it up with a comedy. “That’s a success to me, that it’s so unsettling that you need to watch Seinfeld before you go to bed,” he says.
The way Heidecker and Wareheim made the show was a departure from their norm as well. They wrote the scripts in advance. The episodes are more like short films, and they work really well in that format. Plus, Heidecker and Wareheim don’t star in all of the episodes. “Toes” is anchored by Bob Odenkirk in a role that fans might not expect.
“We do love sitting back and directing as well as being on camera,” Wareheim says. “It’s actually really, really hard to make this high of a production-wise show directing and writing in it and starring in it.”
Still, Wareheim says that Bedtime Stories is in line with what they have done in the past. He points to the “Cinco Boy” bit in Awesome Show, Great Job! as an example. In it, the fake product is a “synthetic child” meant to take the place of a deceased one. “The show is really just that idea, but extended,” he explains. “What if that was your reality? That kind of nightmare.”
As they did with their previous efforts, Heidecker and Wareheim are pulling the audience outside of its comfort zone. It’s not what one would expect, but, really, has anything else they’ve done been predictable?
“We’ve never sort of actively tried to make stuff to any sort of audience anyways,” Heidecker says. “Everything done has been stuff that we wanted to do and, luckily, people were there to like it and a style sort of formed around that.”