It’s hard to believe we ever lived in a pre-Tim and Eric world, because in the six years they’ve been on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim lineup, their squirm-inducing quasi-anti-comedy’s influence is now virtually inescapable. Of course, their spreading sway hasn’t been completely limited to Tom Goes To The Mayor and the more sketch-based Tim And Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, but for every music video Eric Wareheim directs, there are many more guest-star big-name actors (and diva-esque small-name or local-access actors) attracting attention to what Tim and Eric have been doing. Paul Rudd shows up to use a computer, and it’s funnier than it deserves to be. Fred Willard hosts a cooking show, and it’s both unsettling and goofy. But none of the guest stars even remotely hold a candle to John C. Reilly, who’s carved out an entire new identity for himself as Dr. Steve Brule, a perpetually uneasy physician whose credentials are both suspect and unclear. Two years ago, Tim and Eric announced that Dr. Steve Brule would be getting his own spinoff, and it was exciting not only because Brule is easily one of their best creations, but also because Brule is also the poster child for their mission on Adult Swim: Putting things on TV that have no business being on TV.
But until after tonight’s episode, I really had no idea what to expect. It was exhilarating in a way, because I remember puzzling over Awesome Show teasers with friends a couple years back. They gave no indication whatsoever about what that show would be, other than completely insane. Check It Out! was supposed to premiere last year, but it was pushed back, and concrete details about it remained virtually non-existent. Adult Swim coyly sent me an e-mail last month telling me Brule’s show is “his version of a newsmagazine-style program.” That’s a pretty fair assessment, because Check It Out! feels very much like something Brule spent many sleepless nights editing together while thoughtfully gnawing on his glasses.
Tonight’s episode, as its title suggests, is all about food. As is typical with Tim and Eric’s sense of humor, it doesn’t really matter what happens onscreen: It’s how things happen. All the same, it’s an auspicious start for what’s hopefully going to be a six-episode run that’s as strong as this debut. Check It Out! isn’t so much about the topics Brule is covering, but it’s actually quite legitimately a character study about the good doctor. He and his behind-the-camera buddy Denny have decided to tackle the issues that they think matter more than anything else. And really, what could be more important than food? You need it to live, dummy.
From the outset, Check It Out! is just remarkably odd. The colors look slightly wrong. And from the looks of it, Brule has gussied up a local-access station’s studio to make a junior-high-school’s same setup look only slightly better by comparison. He takes his responsibility just as seriously as a seventh grader would, making sure he syncs his swivel around on his non-swiveling stool precisely at the top of the show so he can greet the camera exactly when the intro music ends. After opening with a nonsensical poem about nutrition, Brule clumsily segues into the show’s first field piece: Going to a restaurant, an experience he describes being “like stumbling into a cave of food.”
It’s at Toad’s Family Restaurant that he falls into “a lover’s trance” with unknowing waitress Sunshine—another is-she-a-real-actor-or-just-some-person-they-found-in-the-parking-lot? actor—who’s too busy carefully reading the specials from her pad directly into the camera to notice. We’ve only really seen Brule interact with Tim or Eric, so somehow just the simple premise of him engaging new characters alone is pretty funny. One of the biggest gross-out laughs comes here when Brule heroically orders all the food in the restaurant so the viewers at home can see it, and then demonstrating a great safety tip to cool off food that’s too hot: Spit cold milk all over it. After that display of resourcefulness, Brule invites Sunshine back to the studio to talk further about food, but he quickly falls out of love with her when he finds out they’re cousins. Instead of being repulsed, Dr. Steve just gets underwhelmed, moving on with a matter-of-fact “big deal!”
After covering the kinds of foods you might encounter outside your cupboard and local diner, Brule trips and falls into a cake on a pedestal, then declares it’s time we investigate weird foods like sushi. A polite sushi chef winds up being just another onscreen prop for Brule, who instead ingests a dangerous amount of wasabi and wonders aloud about ginger, which he mistakes for peaches. Brule again dispenses with this segment by basically undercutting it with some more wisdom: “Don’t let other people from other countries talk to you.”
Finally, Brule invites special guest—and real-life weight-loss coach/nutrionist—Dr. Jonny Bowden on for what I hope will be a recurring segment called “Doctor On Doctor.” When Bowden begins to second-guess Brule’s knowledge of the food pyramid (which includes dog foods), there’s a prolonged period of intense and awkward silence, until Brule basically admits he doesn’t care what Bowden thinks—he’s a doctor, too.
Until writing about tonight’s episode, I didn’t even realize that the show’s segments basically all ended with Brule dismissing them. It doesn’t make them feel like a waste of time—far from it—but I think is just an extension of how flighty Brule is. When he was on the Channel 5 News dishing out health tips, those handfuls of seconds were probably the longest he was able to be coherent. So, no wonder his show zigs and zags like a hummingbird. Where Tim and Eric’s bargain-bin production tricks and have become somewhat commonplace, Check It Out mines a lot of its brain-hurting laughs sheerly from character. Which in itself is pretty funny, because Tim and Eric have been called a lot of things, but patient and character-based hasn’t been one of them. Mind you, Check It Out is far from a traditional show, but it feels refreshingly different for the Adult Swim lineup. Hell, it feels different from everything else Tim and Eric have done before, but still feeling somehow familiar. If Awesome Show is anti-comedy, then Check It Out is post-comedy: something that’s funny without even trying.
· Is John C. Reilly wearing a bald cap, and also a wig modeled after the original Brule hair? Does anyone know?
· Tim Heidecker has said in interviews that Reilly actually can’t see through the glasses Brule wears. Because he’s doing much more with the character now, is that why he’s introduced a new crosseyed dramatic stare to his repertoire?
· “I brought a real sushi lady in to make real sushi sandwiches for us.”
· Terry Bruge-Hiplo. Sherriff Ramb. If Tim and Eric made a TV show just of their strange made-up names shooting across the screen, people would still watch it.
· “Food is bad for your health, if you eat too many kinds of food at once.”
· The food pyramid, as Dr. Steve Brule understands it: “sugar, salt, nachos, hot dogs, corn dogs, all the dog foods, and the white foods: milk and rice.”