Loiter Squad - “Soul Food”

Loiter Squad - “Soul Food”

Watching Loiter Squad is a bit like watching Saturday Night Live, if it were fast-forwarded and compressed to fill a mere 15 minutes—and much, much funnier. Where SNL and other mainstream sketch comedy shows err on the side of humor that most people can understand, Loiter Squad goes deliciously niche, reveling in a humor that is extremely self-referential but also—when it lands—pretty damn funny. 

Loiter Squad is the television venture of Los Angeles hip-hop collective Odd Future, a cult favorite probably best known for launching the career of Grammy winner Frank Ocean. It’s also produced by the charmingly named Dickhouse Productions, the studio that brought you Jackass. As a result, it’s more or less what you’d expect—a fast, flashy show, with a humor that is at times so obscure it borders on surreal.

Take, for example, one of the recurring jokes of “Soul Food,” the second season’s première. Blake Andersen (of Workaholics fame) is a new regular cast member—“a white guy!” the rest of the all-black cast points out—and no less than three times, Johnson introduces himself, says hi to his new castmates, and then proceeds to commit suicide. The deaths are all ridiculously over-the-top—they’re not even slightly, briefly believable—so somehow, the joke is that they are trying to make the death plausible. It would be easier to criticize if it weren’t so perversely funny. Not so much the methods themselves, which are purely spectacular—gruesome in the way a haunted house is gruesome—but in the reactions of the other cast members, who either encourage him, ask him to prove himself, or start to question their own humanity. There’s a camaraderie here that brings life to the sketch.

Triple-faux-suicide is not the best joke in the episode, but one that seems right for Loiter Squad’s audience (which is presumably mostly young people up well past their bedtime or adults smoking pot). What’s better than the jokes themselves is how well the show structured. The suicide bit comes back three times in just one 15-minute episode, and this recurrence is next to two installments of “Catchphrase Jones” and two of a parody of Training Day. It’s a little frenetic, but also a bit impressive.

“Catchphrase Jones” is near-brilliant, in both writing and execution. Modeled on 1970s-era action movies, complete with terrible dialogue, poorly choreographed fight scenes, and laughably bad fake blood, “Catchphrase Jones” takes the parody a step further and freeze-frames the shot every time Jones snaps out one of his signature catchphrases. The villains are ludicrously armed with wolverine claws made from dinner knives and fedoras. A chorus of soulful women in the back sing “Catchphrase Jooooooones” at the end of every episode. And Jones himself regales us with quips like “Do you like butter? Cause here comes the toast!” that are, for what it’s worth, both enigmatic and hilarious. The best moment in the whole episode is Jones (played by cast member Lionel) throwing a sausage at his foe (played by Jasper). As he hurls it, he shouts, “Asalami laykum!”—which is a bastardization of a traditional Muslim greeting (“salaam alikoum”) that inserts the word “salami” so it sounds like “a salami come!” Observant Muslims don’t even eat salami, as it’s made of pork, and they also probably do not attempt to murder people with salami, as murder is generally frowned upon. So, this is layers like an onion. It’s unclear how many viewers will get the joke (it’s merely coincidental that I understood it), but the shot immediately following is of villain Jasper slicing the salami into perfect rounds of pepperoni with his dinner-knife claw, so probably everyone will leave happy.

This kind of brash, high-and-low humor is endemic to young people—that age group playing around with wit and intellectualism but still unashamed to be amused by spurting blood and slapstick comedy. It’s a space well-used by Loiter Squad, which manages to make all of its jokes feel comfortably effortless—the product of the loitering in the title. Plus, in its execution, there’s an interesting professionalism to the players—one that carries over to the other sketches.

“Training Day,” a parody of Training Day, is the other big laugh of the episode—an extended joke, not quite clear at first, in which a manager of a fast-food restaurant, played by Tyler, takes on Denzel Washington’s persona in Training Day to half-torture, half-train a new employee. This culminates in Tyler pushing fries onto the unwilling trainee, who complains he doesn’t want to eat fries. Tyler goes ballistic and pulls a gun: “If I was a customer, you’d be dead right now!” It makes absolutely no sense, of course, but neither does a fast-food manager carrying a firearm.

These two stronger sketches are weighed down a little by some more juvenile fare—“Rollin’ With Dark Shark” is a bit iffy, and the fake advertisement for burgers, sexily acted out by Jasper on a sedan, is provocative but goes on a bit too long. And the last sketch is really more of a variety show segment, in which Odd Future member Earl Sweatshirt brings some swagger, performing onstage in L.A. 

What’s most interesting about Loiter Squad beyond its surface appeal is how rooted the show is in African-American culture—specifically (probably) the culture around Southern California, but certainly embracing and playing with a subculture that doesn’t often make it to the mainstream. For that alone, it’s eye-catching; the rest, a combination of cheese jokes and prosthetic arms, is probably going to be best-suited for its audience. Still, as far as teenage sketch comedy goes, it’s light and witty without being vulgar, offensive, or boring, and that’s an accomplishment.

Stray observations:

  • “Catchphrase Jones, Episode 2: A Dish Best Served Black” is a real thing that happens.
  • “I LIKE CHEESE. I LIKE CHEESE. I LIKE CHEESE.”
  • Jasper Dolphin’s character on “Catchphrase Jones” is called “The Black Claw.”
  • More catchphrases: “It’s black history month. Every month.” And “You better put on your shoes, ‘cause it’s naptime.” And "I see James, but where's the Peach?"
  • You may have picked up on the fact that I would watch a full-length movie entitled Catchphrase Jones, complete with catchphrase freeze-frames and vocal track.
  • "You better stay black!"