Moving Pictures
Sep 10, 2010, 09:52AM

Why, Big Lake?

Irony has folded in upon itself, and it’s not pretty.

Sitting through just a few minutes of Comedy Central’s new show, Big Lake, is a Herculean task—except by the end of your legendary labors, there is no reward, and you’re more inclined to kill your wife and children than you were before you’d even started.

The premise is simple enough: guy screws up, guy has to come home to live with his parents as he repays them for losing their retirement find. Antics ensue. While this might sound like a great setup for a progression of moving, enlightening solutions to wrongs-gone-right à la My Name Is Earl, the result is numbing and pathetic, and just a little nauseating. It’s an example of having a cabinet full of excellent ingredients going into something, and you end up creating a disgusting mess that looks better on the way out than it did on the way in.

The creators of Big Lake include Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, two of the hilarious minds behind Anchorman—a comedy classic for anyone who has any taste whatsoever—and Lewis Morton, who wrote some of the smartest and emotionally resonant episodes of Futurama. It’s undeniable that Chris Parnell is a funny actor during the rare moments when he can drop the one character that he plays for something slightly more human and less of a self-assured, aloof jackoff. So, why does everything about Big Lake make my skin crawl?

Anything this bad has to be doing it on purpose: the poorly timed laugh track, the grossly clichéd jokes, the stilted delivery of every line. Perhaps it seeks to shock us by interjecting very dark, violent humor into an otherwise over-lit and angrily generic comedy setting which is an obvious parody of the very worst parts of 1980s sitcom conventions, but nothing really sticks.

The fellas hatch a plan to sell a rare baseball to drum up some cash. An ostensibly saccharine younger brother reveals a gun tucked into his waistband and shows how badass he is by calling his older brother “vagina face” and very seriously threatens to murder him. The audience laughs because one guy eats all of another guy’s French fries.

If the writers are trying to deliver a “huh?” moment to the audience, or get a guffaw out of the incongruity of these things, it’s been broken somewhere along the way. It’s apparent that the show is trying very, very hard to be ironic, but it fails at accomplishing anything at all. I’d like to imagine that this abject failure is also a secret device that will transform the show into something of a meta-meta-meta comedy that matures with time, but it seems unlikely. It’s hard to have that much faith in an audience that embraces Tosh.0.

In a perfect world, something that starts out this poorly will evolve in the same way that Adult Swim’s Morel Orel did through its three seasons: a season and a half of goofy comedy premises, and another season and a half in which the dark, harsh consequences of these unrealistic situations become very real and the tone changes completely, making both segments of the experience work on a whole new, truly effective level. It’s unlikely that anything like that would happen, but it’s the only way I can envision something this hideously malformed finding any kind of redemption.

It’s not easy to appreciate the post-meta-meta-post-irony that Big Lake is dishing out, if that’s actually what it’s trying to do. Is this a comedy for intellectuals, and do the intellectuals even care when they have Futurama right around the corner writing mathematical theses to drop casually into plot lines? Who’s actually laughing at this stuff long enough for it to shuffle onto TV?

I really hope it’s not us.

  • Big fan of your writing, Colin, but must take issue with one point in this article. Anchorman was a blight on an already deserted American cultural landscape.

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