I think this might qualify as the first web-only series that I’ve watched. Is this a watershed moment?
Is Burning Love worthy of such a momentous milestone?
So far, not really, but I’m not issuing any pronouncements yet. I do love to see so many familiar faces from Party Down, but I have a sense that they are slumming a bit. Ken Marino (who holds the triple crown in my book for appearing as in Angel, Veronica Mars, and Party Down) is bringing the flock together again, if only for a few screen minutes. For that I am thankful.
In Party Down, the laughs were on the characters, but we sympathized with them. The caterers were people who seemed to be perennially on the losing end of the stick, refusing to give up, even if the refusal was internal. They were trudging forward through a crap job with hopes for more. Their humiliation was constant and consistently funny, but I loved them as much for who they were as for who they wanted to become.
In Burning Love, produced by Ben Stiller, we are really just laughing at the one-note characters. Blind woman. Old Lady. Big Boobs. Pregnant Flight Attendant. Tranny. Homeless Woman. Christian. Lesbian. Stalker. Vagina-exhibitionist.
Okay, the last two are pretty fun, but the rest feel facile, like “Titi” repeatedly called “Titty,” as her cleavage dominates every outfit she appears in. Did someone put a sixth-grade boy on the writing staff?
I won’t deny that I laugh, sometimes hard, as after Vagina-Exhibitionist slides off the mechanical bull and a barback immediately races over to spray down the seat. And I enjoyed Old Lady’s tirade about peppermint candies as she takes her ride back to the old-folks’ home. She isn’t allowed to eat them, but she has hundreds of them back in her room. Hundreds.
I recognize this as parody. I’ve only watched seconds of the shows it mocks: I think they are absolute shit and a disgrace to American pop culture, and this comes from someone who watched Small Wonder. In terms of treading lightly with jokes about marginalized characters, I nearly split a gut laughing when Charlize Theron’s guest character on Arrested Development turned out to be mentally retarded (o.k. challenged) instead of a superspy.
And I can watch Strangers with Candy and feel bliss.
That’s not a very nice show, is it? I just wish that Burning Love were meaner toward the genre than to its characters.
I like meanness, but not really directed at the blind, and not really when it’s something I’ve seen parodied a thousand times before, like touching someone’s face and saying something unexpected and inappropriate: “You’ve got a big nose.” Zing. Thud.
And some of the scenes, maybe improvised, fall really flat. Ken Marino meeting with this therapist, played by Adam Scott, seem filled with promise, and then they do a double-booked appointment joke with Scott talking to Marino and with client on the phone simultaneously. I think they’re robbing from when Kristen Bell did it on Party Down, much better. Here it felt like a modernized but unimproved version of Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” routine. Tired.
Speaking of Bell, she is the most high-profile of the contestants once Jennifer Aniston pulls off her panda head after being eliminated. Bell is the serious Christian. I guess to me Christianity is fair game to play with, but as long as they were going to do it – with Bell performing a startlingly blue stand-up routine – I wish they had gone further. This is their shot to really toss us some shockingly dirty jokes.
Maybe they were saving the the real filth/cringe for the vagina-exhibitionist, who really tips the scales with her punchline on the stage. That one I consider classic.
Am I ready to throw Christians to the wolves but not the blind and homeless? Pause for thought. Well, Christians can fight back more easily, and they can actually watch the show with their vision and their personal laptops.
Regarding the Christian character, I did savor Kristen Bell after being booted and sent off in the limo, praying that God would punish everyone she was leaving behind. “All of them.” That line had some commentary.
Ken Marino’s segments with fake host Michael Ian Black fare better than Adam Scott’s, though I would like Black to be more cruel and condescending, and Ken Marino to be a few degrees more stupid or thoughtless. These are the hard targets.
And is the homeless woman actually funny? I feel like we’re supposed to laugh at her because she is homeless as much as the fact that she is homeless and on The Bachelor parody.
I feel odd because I enjoy the show while I’m viewing it, but afterwards feel some of its mediocrity sink in. It’s unfair to compare to Party Down, and I do believe that Marino wants to skewer all the shitty dating shows, which, in terms of shots, editing, forced situations, music, and general format, they’ve got down.
What’s missing is the vapidity and relentless stupidity of the real douche bachelor and his gaggle of attention-starved skanks who, along with the producers, and the stupid-assed audiences who watch this garbage, set back women about five decades.
And the women don’t really need to be homeless or blind. The contestants (is that the proper term?) from the actual shows are wide enough targets to begin with. Hit them hard and make it ruthless, but be sure you’ve got the right dartboard with the right faces taped over it.
Savage the genre and its participants, and for that matter, the idiots who watch this garbage and perpetuate it.
I’ll keep watching. I laugh for ten minutes and then feel dissatisfied for the next two. Then I’m ready for more.
Maybe I’ll be able to digest the show for what it is: short webisodes that need to cut to the chase with fast laughs to keep the viewer engaged. I am engaged. Reluctantly.
Maybe the part of the engagement stems from making the female contestants such misfits to point out how ludicrous the genre is.
Exposing the ludicrocity™ would be funnier and more cutting if the homeless woman were a more convincing character, not just a pretty model-ish actress hoarding bagels.
I do have some favorites, including the woman distinguished by having a monkey heart. Ken Marino finds her appealing, as she is “half-human, half-ape.” She can only stay in the bubble bath for thirty minutes – on account of her monkey heart! Plus she guffawed without restraint DURING her bubble bath date at the amazingly delivered, horribly unfunny stand-up routine inside the bathroom from a surprise guest. That scene works for me.
For the scenes that don’t, and they really don’t, maybe I need the input of a blind person or a homeless person. If the subjects could laugh more easily, I could too. But I don’t think they can, especially when the jokes are so cheap. Blind photographer? “These all look blurry.” Where are Jamie Farr and Jaye P. Morgan to crash the gong? Can we find an original way to make blind funny? It’ can’t be that hard. Strangers with Candy did:
NB: I did like the blind woman’s foul-mouthed reaction to being eliminated once she’s in the limo. Ditto with the damning Christian and the old lady more interested in her candy than the contest. Maybe I like the characters best in the limo/old folks’ van when they’ve been ejected from the show. The fake show. The fake reality show.
I’m already raring to go for the Thursday webisode. I love using the word “webisode,” and maybe I just need to get used to the quick-punch humor they need to deliver with a very limited budget and a very short running time. Is this a learning curve? Do I need to take in webisodes with a slightly different set of eyes and ears.
[Oh! I realize I’ve forgotten Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis. Are those webisodes? Celebrities mocking themselves. That I’m down with. Jennifer Aniston did that one too. She should stick to micro-performances in web series instead of shitty rom-coms.]
And I’m still thankful for assembling much of the gang back together. Ken Marino, I still love you, but I’m not ready to hand Burning Love the golden hose. Not yet.
Since this is sort of my first web series, I’m withholding my verdict.
But I can’t wait for Thursday’s webisode.