Like many busy people, I spend roughly 40 percent of my waking life wasting time on the internet. The problem: The many commentators and reviewers who pollute the internet only ever talk about good TV shows and movies. Nobody wants to talk about the mediocre ones!
It’s a challenge, and I accept it.
“Apollo Gauntlet” (Adult Swim, 2017)
This defiantly stupid Canadian import began as a YouTube series and was picked up for a six-episode test run, a bit like “MDE Presents: World Peace,” but with less alt-right transgressions and more dumb pop culture references. Myles Langlois’s vision was a parody of the detritus of 1980s D&D culture, sort of resembling the infamous CD-based “Zelda” game cutscenes but with choppier animation. Upgraded for a mass audience, it even more closely evokes those “Zelda” comes, some of the most immediately hate-watchable entertainment of my generation.
The show itself is… fine? Langlois himself plays Paul Cassidy/Apollo Gauntlet, whose fortuitous discovery of magic talking gauntlets transforms him into the superhero for a generic fantasy world. His delivery is one of the best things about the show, lazy and distracted. It’s a bit like “One Punch Man,” a much, much superior show, in that the humor comes not from setbacks but from a hero laconically conquering every challenge he comes across.
I enjoyed the randomness of everything else, and the voice acting owns; Betsy Sodaro, a UCB veteran with a voice like a clogged paper shredder, is particularly good as the most competent member of the adventuring crew Gauntlet stumbles into leading. But too often, the jokes consist of out-of-place references and little follow-through. One example: When Gauntlet teams up with Dr. Benign, the James Urbaniak-voiced villain who sent him to this word, Benign suggests a plan that will be “just like ‘Shadow of the Collossus.'” It’s a video game, get it?
The punchline, delivered by Gauntlet: “Nobody understands your pop culture references.”
That’s it. Fine stoner entertainment, but not much more. Binge-watching will get you maybe through half an edible.
“I’m Dying Up Here” (Showtime, 2017)
My favorite hate-watch of 2017, a deeply flawed show packed with enough funny performances that I keep turning it on and suppressing my groans. Based loosely on what’s supposed to be a very good book about the alt-comedy scene in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s, the show’s set largely in the fictional Goldie’s, owned by — get this — a woman named Goldie, played by Melissa Leo with dramatic chops and a lot of corny dialogue. Goldie’s is basically The Comedy Store, which, fortunately for set designers, has not changed since the 1970s.
Goldie presides over a sophisticated comedy slave trade, where comics work for no pay for the right to hone their acts and maybe catch the eyes of producers. The plotlines that don’t resolve around personal drama usually focus on the workability of this scheme, which, in the pilot episode, is complicated by a comedian (Sebastian Stan) getting a big break on “The Tonight Show” and then killing himself, because there was nowhere to go but down.
God help me, I was compelled to keep watching, mostly because of the performances that anchor the b-plots. The a-plots are often excruciating, usually involving Bill (Andrew Santino), Nick (Jack Lacy), and Cassie (Ari Gaynor) battle their egos — and in Nick’s case, every drug available in 1975 Los Angeles — to Make It. But the b-team of actors are funny in a way that overcomes the occasional drab script — Clark Duke, Erik Griffin, Jon Daly, and Al Madrigal as a comedian who is, correctly, mocked for making every single joke about Mexicans. There’s a throwaway scene in which Duke and Daly argue over whether the drowning death of Daly’s father makes any sense as an analogy that’s one of my favorite things all year. (Another favorite: A hanger-on comedian played by Dom Irrera walking absent-mindedly into a fight, kicking a sleazy radio producer on the ground, and only then asking “hey, who we kickin’?”)
Also, to be fair, it’s damn hard to make fake “comedy” work, as the people who suffered through “Studio 60” can attest. “30 Rock” usually got past this problem by making its show-within-a-show completely surreal; “I’m Dying Up Here” does a good job manufacturing stand-up that sounds like it was delivered by people who haven’t quite made it.