The Heart, She Holler debuts tonight on adult swim at 12:30 a.m. Eastern.
The Heart, She Holler is less a comedy show than a feeling—an aesthetic. It’s still funny, but pushes the mind to strange and unsettling places that sit peripheral to comedy, like gleefully making numerous outrageous jokes about incest; sometimes you don’t know where the laughter’s coming from, but it’s there. Not surprisingly, the show is from the minds of PFFR, the collective known for Wonder Showzen, Xavier, and Delocated, each at varying degrees of groundedness. (In the non-PFFR world, think Tim & Eric as the most obvious example, or to a lesser extent Jon Benjamin Has A Van.) Sometimes these shows are best appreciated when you sit back and marvel at how they’ve turned something simple into something fucked up with only a few minor tweaks.
Take the opening scene of The Heart, She Holler—a six-part miniseries that starts tonight, ending Friday at midnight. The leader of a Big Love-esque religious commune has passed away (from tirelessly slaving over his video will), and the people of the Holler have gathered to learn the identity of Boss Hoss’s successor. There’s a permeating sense of dread in the room, and the vibe continues throughout the episode, heightening the ridiculousness of what’s about to transpire. The video starts. “Should it be…my only child Hershey?” he says; cut to Kristen Schaal dressed like a goth bride who got stuck in the sun for a while, slithering in her seat with pleasure as Boss Hoss describes the filthy sex videos he made with her. “Or will it be my other only child Ambrosia?” he goes on. Cut to Heather Lawless, menacingly scowling as Boss Hoss tells everyone about her crazy mind-reading ability. No, the holler, he says, will go to his secret son, whom he had 40 years ago. He fires his pistol in the air, which shoots directly through the top of the TV.
A few minutes later, the brave souls of the Holler are breaking open a wall with a sledge hammer—Boss Hoss hid this son in a hidey-hole when he was only one minute old, to free only in case of such an emergency. Out comes Patton Oswalt, dressed like a scared little boy caveman holding a vaguely human-like doll he constructed out of whatever clay he could find in that hidey-hole. He speaks no English and is terrified of all things, even light. Thus begins the story of preparing Hurlan for the impossible, completely unexpected task of steering the ship, inheriting a fortune, and learning about the incest-ridden world he’s suddenly found himself thrust into. Part of that involves shaving his beard and donning the ‘60s-era Beatles wig we Patton Oswalt fans have been surely waiting for.
If the first episode of The Heart, She Holler makes slightly less sense than the others, it’s because much time is spent setting up the characters in this alterna-Twin Peaks universe they occupy. The episode mostly follows Hershey and Ambrosia as they pout about losing the Holler, but a few other people, like Ambrosia’s honorable cop husband and the monkey-loving doctor, snatch a few lines here-and-there. (“Well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle…come ‘bout June.”) Characters are introduced quickly, but you can tell they’re adding ingredients, slowly but surely, to the stew of The Heart, She Holler—a stew that tastes like giving a video tape a blowjob or performing a dong-swap surgery. There are going to be a lot of moving pieces by the end of this miniseries, thus it feels like something is missing from this episode. There’s not a ton of rapport between the major characters, but the only fix is just to give it a little more time.
As far as the jokes, many of them fall under the “unnecessary” category, and I mean that in the best possible way. For example, when Ambrosia feuds with her cop husband, she begins to shake the entire room with her mind powers, and a bunch of trinkets and books fall off the shelves. Her husband is quick to deny whatever it was that started the fight, and they hug. That could have been the end of the scene—it’s a plot-driven one, really—but it’s not. The music shifts to reverse as these objects leap back onto the shelves, fix themselves up, and basically undo everything that just happened. The second half of the scene is just about as long as the first half, and accomplishes nothing other than to have fun with reversing the action. Clearly the boys of PFFR don’t think about their comedy in terms of “bits” or “story-based,” but rather something in-between, where the bit doesn’t always match up to the story it’s supporting. It makes for unexpected combinations, though, and The Heart, She Holler packs a few surprises into even the miniscule, 11-minute format.
It helps that the world The Heart is skewing is so ripe for one. In the show, stupidity and naïveté are virtues, and standing up to authority is a sin that’s inconceivably bad. Even though Hurlan is basically mentally incapacitated—he pretty much only says the words “hot dog” during the episode—the Holler will blindly follow him to the ends of the Earth merely because some other guy, who might be just as bad for all we know, told everyone to. Oswalt is perfectly cast as Hurlan, a character who has to effortlessly transition from innocent to borderline psychotic; Oswalt gives Hurlan a playful demeanor that serves both sides. I especially liked Schaal as Hershey, mostly because Schaal always fully commits to characters she plays, even this fucking disgusting one. Just the way she talks is enough to get everyone on the show to shudder. Couple the casting choices with material that pushes the limits of good taste, and you get a series that celebrates the outlying comedic impulses of everyone in PFFR. All the moving parts are there, now it’s time to let The Heart, She Holler take off for incestuous, creepy-old-lady-stare territory.