Cult Television? Good lord, what kind of online webzine is this? Well, let me tell you; the kind that’s better than you – so stop your yapping. Yes, I know, it’s kind of an odd subject to tackle in what has been a predominantly film based journal (though Mike’s article on Deep Space Nine sort of rang a similar tune), but if I can remind one person of the pure amazing beauty found in any of these shows: then my job will have served a purpose, unlike my usual blathering of course.While I’m at the start of this whole thing, I would also like to say the title of this article is in no way a challenge. If I ever met anyone who has seen and been a fan of all of these shows, much less held the same opinions on them individually – I’m afraid that would make them half as cool as me, thus ;leaving me in a coma-like state of consciousness. So I will just remain naive and assume I am the only person on this planet who has taken in these six amazing programs – for my own well being.
The first show I would like to speak on is the mother of my cult-ish obsessions, well, maybe not mother – perhaps the uncle, or highly appreciated teacher. Regardless, Sifl & Olly was one of those shows that while I took great love of it’s two season madness, knew it had to come to an end some day. Despite the third season essentially being in the can, MTV (those brilliant minds consistently at work) canceled it due to a lack of interest. The basic spin of the show was this: Two sock puppets, who may or may not be stoners, host a show. That’s about it. The show flowed between skits, songs and some awfully weird moments – all at complete random but with a similar sensibility. The format of the show was cut into several parts, almost always coming to a close after the “It’s the Almost the End of the Show” segment – where a song usually took place to commemorate… absolutely nothing. Then of course there were the other highly memorable segments, like “A Word With Chester”, Sifl & Olly’s somewhat deranged buddy who seems to have some sort of speech impediment. He also takes girls out on dates to the car wash, followed by a dinner of cereal that he keeps in his pockets. A great man if there ever was one. No great man could go alone with a great salesman though, am I right? (just nod your head at my less than stellar lead in) This is where Precious Roy and his Precious Roy Home Shopping Network comes in! Providing you the viewer with such amazing products as the “Pirate Cripplers”, made up of shaved beavers who will gnaw away at any wooden leg that enters your home. Then of course there’s the Precious Roy “Elf Hotel”, a small miniature hotel that comes with miniature prostitutes (because everyone knows, an elf can’t resist a hooker in a hotel room) and a bed of super glue. Elves check in, but they don’t check out! To top off all the brilliant comedy, there were actually some very entertaining songs thrown into the mix. I know, it sounds ridiculous, but the songs were sometimes just as funny/cool as the rest of the sketches. Songs like “Dude’s House”, “Sunny Side Up”, “Canadian Dracula”, “Hellfire”, “Heart Attacks” and the now nearly famous “Whatever” – they made up a series of songs that absolutely deserve a best-of compilation. And the top-10 songs episode for the show doesn’t count since MTV hasn’t released either season yet. Did I mention that they suck? Oh, well, I’ll get to that later.
For the next show to spotlight, the only proper way to build up the lead-in for it is to say; take a bizarre and slightly insane concept and create it in your mind. Take that idea, and for this instance, let’s say the idea is that we have a small town that uses log-rolling to decide every major event in their little worlds. Now, let’s take this ridiculous idea and make it suitable for this favorite show of mine. Let’s see, oh, I’ve got it! Dolphin Sex! We’ll throw in some dolphins, some aliens and the most disturbing use of a wrestling catch phrase ever thought to be. That’s all in just one episode of The Upright Citizens Brigade. It is in my humble opinion that the UCB made up the finest sketch comedy show I have ever sat through. There have been other great shows, but no other show ever took such a surrealist edge and just ran with it. Not to mention the brilliant way in which every episode was scripted. Taking one absurd situation, have it fold into at least two more weird little sketches and then tie them all together in an explosive final sequence that leaves everyone scratching their heads. It was like watching Quentin Tarantino go insane, but even more humorous. Although the show never seemed to create the buzz it certainly deserves, it was able to make it through a few really great seasons and ended on a high note if ever a thing was possible – with the opus that was Thunderball. A sport that makes absolutely no sense and seems to only exist to cause torture and pain. For instance, in the middle of the outfield there is a circle, the gun circle, where a loaded weapon is placed for seemingly no reason at all. Several of the balls are replaced with glass, attack dogs are used and it is not unheard of to have cars randomly mow players down in the midst of a game. It’s something only the UCB could create, and it’s not even my favorite episode! If you by chance are a fan of the stranger forms of comedy, they don’t come much stranger than UCB.
Now, my next show is a bit over-rated as much as it is under-rated. The show in question is the ever popular (well, amongst certain crowds) Mr. Show with Bob and David. Now, I discovered Mr. Show one night while flipping through television. I don’t even remember what episode it was, but I do recall David and Bob yelling
obscenities at one another – and from then on, I was consistently interested. The show is much like The Upright Citizens Brigade in it’s tone while being a sketch comedy show, but the way things work are drastically different. For one, Mr. Show is shot both parts live in a studio with several parts mixed in with previously recorded video. So basically, the skits consistently flow into one another, and while the show may be live, there’s no breaking for dress changes or anything like that. My biggest problem with Mr. Show is that while they may have some of the most brilliant bits of all time in one episode, the one or two really fantastic pieces will be dominated by a series of sketches that never seem to get off the ground. Then there’s the fact that the audience is given a laugh-track, which for such a daring show never seemed to work. For what it was though, Mr. Show was able to pull some really funny tricks out of their hat. A favorite episode of mine focused mostly on the business world, and had a poor (and slightly slow) foreign child-laborer writing the whole episode out. Yeah, it makes more sense when you see it in action. The episode gave me one of my favorite quotes of all time to top things off! When Bob Odenkirk is playing a pool player who somehow can teach history with a billiards table, he knocks a ball into a corner pocket and lets loose the classic: And that’s when Lincoln said, “Don’t diss my homies!” – all with a sort of ‘Ta-Da!’ magician’s look on his face.
Now, Newsradio may not be the most obscure show on the face of the planet. I’m first to admit it, no doubt about it, there was definitely a time when it had enough popularity to sustain it’s place on television for a good number of years. The reason I include it though is that there’s really not a vast amount of uber-fans of the show throughout my limited experiences. Of course, it is a sitcom, but I think it may be the greatest one ever made. Just opinion of course, but there are few shows that took such a deliberately mundane concept and actually made something that was genuinely hilarious from it. The show focused on Dave Nelson (played by Dave Foley, ex-Kids in the Hall member at the time, a show that probably should have made it on this list as well) who takes the job of news-director at WNYX, a news station in New York. You can imagine the wacky things that happen, hardy-har. Well, despite the sarcasm, wacky things do happen and they are funny. The show got off to a rough start, with only slightly humorous interactions between the characters but as the show went on they slowly sketched in all the nuances of each
little sociopath of the office and made them even weirder. The standout of the show was definitely Bill McNeal (played by the late Phil Hartman), who came off as brash and arrogant, but was deep down… umm, brash and arrogant. Often times rambling on about slightly insane stories from his childhood (“My father used to say ‘when I was a child I walked and spoke as a child, but when I became a man… I took that child out back and had him shot”), or doing just about anything to annoy Dave or make Matthew (played by Andy Dick, who was actually very funny believe it or not) feel like the complete spaz that he so obviously was. The show ran it’s course and after Phil Hartman died, and I hate to be a band-wagon jumper on, lost some of it’s edge. Jon Lovitz replaced him, and although many episodes featuring him were amazing, it felt too much like there were two Andy Dick’s battling for the title of “weird slapstick guy”. The show may never have recovered from the loss, but what was left behind was pure brilliance. It’s enough to make even the most hardened intellectual believe that sitcoms may very well hold some integrity… somewhere.
To take a slight turn away from all the comedy and good humor, I would like to bring up what may be the finest bit of animated drama I think there ever was: The Maxx. Another MTV produced creation that was cut down in it’s prime (Have I mentioned they are the devil?), The Maxx was based upon a comic book series by Sam Kieth. Now, at one point I was heavy into comics, but sadly that came slightly after The Maxx made it’s original run so I still to this day have not completed the story. The Maxx only had one season and it covered basically the first run of the comic – so it leaves a few things hanging (which is an understatement), but I have watched feature length films that leave you guessing more. So if you sit through every episode of The Maxx in one day (as I did once), it’s like reading through a novel or any other emotional experience. It will knock you flat on your back, I kid you not. The dialogue is so lyrical, and the ideas so fresh – it’s amazing something like this could be all but forgotten. As a kid I never really liked the show because it frankly wasn’t something that is easy to pick up on for a child. There are some really heavy themes dealt with on the show, and the ‘comic-book in motion’ animated look didn’t exactly scream ‘action’ for someone not even in their teens. So, maybe you’re wondering just what is The Maxx. Well, it’s hard to accurately describe. The story focuses on Maxx, a giant purple muscle bound super hero who lives in an alley. There’s really not a whole lot that is “super” about Maxx, because generally he just sits around being depressed in his alley. At any given time though, Maxx can be sucked into a fantasy world in his mind called The Outback. This isn’t the same Outback you may have heard of when certain people talk about a certain continent – this place is far outside of the world we all know. Strange animals dominated the planes, and Maxx stalks like a beast as a great protector of the lands. When Maxx is sucked back into reality though, he is forced to deal with his social worker and the harsh realities of this world. You see, not exactly something everyone can hang with, but once you at least see the first few episodes – it becomes an addiction. I am hoping that some day the episodes will all make it to digital form, perhaps if the word is spread on the Internet more – but for now, I recommend anyone and everyone get their hands on them by any means necessary. It even makes most anime series of I’ve seen look like child’s play.
My next choice isn’t really all that obscure anymore. Adult Swim has blew up in the past couple of years, but I am part of the lucky group who can say they were watching Cartoon Network late on Sunday nights for a reason other than Aqua Teen Hunger Force. There was a time when Space Ghost Coast to Coast was the dominating/only somewhat adult-oriented program on the network. Sadly, I can’t claim to have been there from the start, but I did begin in the late nineties just as the show was really picking up steam as a force to be reckoned with. The plot for the show is simply that Space Ghost hosts an intergalactic talk show with Zorak his mantis band leader and Moltar his molten-man director.The three talk with guests and sometimes demean everything they do. Generally good fun for the whole family. Like Newsradio, the beginnings weren’t so great however. Frankly, the first few seasons or so are just plain hard to watch. It was a time when they actually tried to make Space Ghost a real talk show host but slowly the absurd and surrealist edge started to slice it’s way into things. Before long we had episodes like Chambraigne, about a shampoo for your hair… and your brain. Then there’s Flipmode where Space Ghost loosens a gas pipe and slowly gets the whole crew high as a kite – and thus turns the episode into some kind of hallucination that ends in a grocery store that is supposed to be a hospital. Things just get weirder and weirder as the series slowly turns on. It’s popularity is fairly down at the moment despite all the other shows gaining notoriety, I suspect because it isn’t played as regularly – but when new episodes do come along they’re just as insane and fun as they always have been. Only now with a bit more breathing room to be slightly offensive.
Well, there you have it, six TV shows that you may or may not have seen. If you haven’t, then score points for me having called it, but if you have seen them all and consider this all to be old news… well, keep it to yourself and stay out of my sights. Some of these shows are lucky to have made it to DVD and you absolutely should check them out, even if they are lame first season boxes. Hopefully some day we’ll get The Maxx out there on the market, and I know I’m ready for that Newsradio set. So, in conclusion, sure there are other great shows I could have listed. I have about a dozen I keep on a list. Some of these are slightly more in the dark than others, and some are just plain obvious. I go by what my instincts tell me, and am very happy with this list. Hopefully someone else out there likes it too.