Delivering precisely what’s advertised on the tin, the three-episode Comedy Central miniseries Time Traveling Bong sees Broad City costars Ilana Glazer and Paul W. Downs discovering… a bong that allows them to travel through time. As Sharee and Jeff, a pair of weed-loving, restlessly aimless adult cousins, the two naturally make a hash of their new water pipe (found after two mysterious, jumpsuit wearing figures appear in the middle of the street and are immediately run over)—and the space-time continuum. Which would be more of a worry if they and the series didn’t greet each of the ensuing outlandish adventures back and forth through history with the smart-aleck, self-centered insouciance of veteran stoners. Why is the sleekly designed time traveling device—in form and function—a bong? Why was there a Hot Tub Time Machine? Don’t worry about it.
Created by the two costars and Broad City writer-director (and Downs’ partner) Lucia Aniello, Time Traveling Bong is, as its title and premise suggest, an essentially disposable goof of an event. Running a bit over an hour in total (with the door left wide open for more, should enough people tune in), the show slots comfortably alongside not only Broad City, but also Comedy Central’s other rambunctious, not to say inebriate, comedies like Idiotsitter and Workaholics. And while the miniseries’ ramshackle nature is one of its charms, it’s hardly tossed off, instead functioning as an amiably silly, slyly pointed showcase for the ever-game and funny Glazer and Downs (even if the absence of Glazer’s Broad City BFF Abbi Jacobson in Glazer’s solo outing might make fans of the duo a little nervous).
While her quicksilver decision-making and love of weed share similarities, Glazer’s Sharee lacks the irrepressible optimism of her Broad City counterpart, at least at first. Sweating over her barely there job at Hertz Rent A Car and dating a married asshole in an “All Lives Matter” T-shirt (Broken Lizard’s Kevin Heffernan), Sharee shares her apartment with her layabout cousin even though he eats her buffalo chicken bites without asking and keeps shorting out her laptop thanks to his oft-interrupted addiction to “HD porn.” That doormat status carries over through their first bong-aided sojourn (after a quick run-in with a hungry dinosaur) to good old witch-happy Salem. As part of the series’ snappy social satire, Jeff is immediately dubbed Sir Jeff and feted with whole turkeys and pilgrim sex while Sharee is tortured, prodded, dunked, and eventually thrown in the stocks. The running gag that Sharee keeps getting gags stuffed in her mouth and jabbed in the exact same place by sharp objects on their adventures is funny, with Glazer’s incredulousness at her repeated victimization giving her outraged double-take muscles an engaging workout. (“It really feels like you’ve made your decision already,” Sharee deadpans at her trial, noting that she’s been dressed up in a stereotypical witch costume.)
It’s only on the pair’s follow-up trip to pre-history (thanks to a wildly imperfect bong repair by Neil Casey’s amusingly obliging Salem glassblower) that shades of Glaser’s Broad City Ilana peep through. Short-circuiting an uncomfortable caveman sexual assault vibe, the segment sees Sharee gleefully embracing a world of bare-breasted yoga, raw meat, and hairy-knuckled gang-bangs, while Downs’ Jeff is the one on the run. Fleeing his own initial enthusiasm for cave-pawing after the toothy realities of the cave-woman’s sexual technique kick in, Jeff’s quickly regretted appeal to his cousin, “Can you imagine how terrifying it is to be in a sexual situation where at any moment you could be overpowered?” picks up the woozily pissed-off satirical thread woven through the miniseries. Investigating the hit-and-run that delivered the bong to them in the first place, Sharee and Jeff are bullied by a pair of cops who, seeing the mixed-race makeup of the mysterious accident victims, write up the accident report as “one white male jaywalking” and pull their guns on the cousins when they try to protest the inaccuracy.
As the two randomly jump through time (winding up variously on a slave plantation, in the Jim Crow South, in an ancient Greek orgy, and, eventually, in an ozone-depleted post-apocalypse) they essentially take turns playing comic victim. The loose structure offers Glazer and Downs the chance to goof around with amiably gross physical comedy (viewers are never far from the next gout of vomit, blood, urine, semen, or horrifying, unidentifiable slime) seasoned with some light political commentary. Scooping up a handful of slaves along with them to 1963, Jeff exclaims, “It’s an awesome time for black people! Actually, it’s not great. Even in our time…”
Glazer and Downs make a fine comedy team, alternately mucking things up in their stoner incompetence (trying to free those slaves with a quick time voyage, they end up driving them into the arms of another form of dangerous servitude), and offering wry commentary about the particular injustices they see in their travels. “I was groped relentlessly… all day! When did men stop groping women?”, asks the 1960s Sharee, to which the sympathetic Jeff offers, “I don’t know, maybe after 9/11?”
Overall, Time Traveling Bong gives Broad City supporting player Downs a fuller chance to exhibit the sort of manic character work he showed off in the impressive one-man show that was his episode of this year’s The Characters. (He’s got the invaluable, unique comic gift of model handsomeness that, with just a toothy smile or exaggerated eye bulge, turns engagingly silly.) And if the usually put-upon Sharee isn’t as freeing for Glazer, it still allows her to stretch her energetic playfulness to some different places. Sharee’s a lot less sure of herself than Broad City’s Ilana, but, like her, she’s got an appealing wildness, especially once she warms up to the freeing (if consistently perilous) chaos her new toy provides.
Compared to the earnest responsibility of James Franco’s 11.22.63 protagonist, the cousins’ stoner carelessness makes light work of the attendant paradoxes their slapdash time-hopping produces. The series takes time for an extended years-long digression where Sharee and Jeff take it upon themselves to set a certain troubled pop star on a better path, only to break down and admit that spending years eating Jell-O molds and enduring endless Mad Men-style sexual harassment in the mid-’60s is just too much of a drag to bother with. When the pair finally make their way back to their own time a little worse for wear, their adventures are basically summed up with Sharee’s resigned “I didn’t realize before how shitty the world has been forever.” They make a shallow grave in the backyard for their powerful time-traveling bong, no doubt subbing in a garden-variety bong to make that lesson fade, just as surely as the fun but forgettable Time Traveling Bong will.