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The Lonely Island hits a home run with “The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience”

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It’s seems as though there’s something for everyone these days.

Gone is the era when consumers of popular culture were forced to fit their own tastes into the broader boxes presented by limited options, where people watched what they watched not because they had sought it out, but because it was what was available to them.

Now, with the advent of streaming services and the like, a person can carefully curate their content consumption to a staggering extent of specificity. And so too can creators curate their creations to aim at those same granular niches.

This is all a long-winded way of saying that I watched The Lonely Island’s “The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience” on Netflix and I feel seen.

Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone have turned their finely-honed sense of goofy absurdism onto a target that is near and dear to my heart – Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire of the 1988 Oakland A’s. The Bash Brothers. It was a nickname inspired by their titanic home runs and the forearm-bashing celebrations that followed them. A nickname that inspired a poster that was a contrived throwback to a beloved “SNL” sketch … a poster that adorned the bedroom wall of many a baseball fan.

A poster that adorned MY wall.

The Lonely Island bills “The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience” as a “visual poem.” And truthfully, it’s as accurate an assessment of the thing as you’re likely to get. It is 30 minutes of fever dream, with layer after metalayer after meta-metalayer. It’s profane and weird and packed with dumb gags and cheap laughs. It wears its affection for its subjects on its sleeve while also taking shot after shot at them with a gleeful relentlessness.

The conceit behind “Bash Brothers” is that this is some sort of lost rap album, recorded at the height of fame for Canseco (Samberg) and McGwire (Schaffer). The viewer is swept along by the duo, alternating between over-the-top songs riddled with references to steroids and other scandals that followed them into their later years and bizarre interludes built around whispered platitudes and self-consciously artsy visuals.

The songs are great, if perhaps not quite up to the level reached by the group’s top-tier offerings. The opening number “Jose & Mark” establishes the dynamic quickly and succinctly, with the hyped-up hyperbole of Samberg’s Canseco matched by the milquetoast vanilla of Schaffer’s McGwire. “Oakland Nights” – a slow jam featuring a marvelous guest turn by the singer Sia (vocally; she’s represented on-screen – weirdly and delightfully – by Sterling K. Brown) – is a pretty rich entry.

The IHOP double dip – “IHOP” (which features McGwire contemplating his ever-bubbling ‘roid rage while he eats pancakes) and “IHOP Parking Lot” (a surreal dance face-off where Canseco and McGwire are swept away by a group of women – Maya Rudolph, Stephanie Beatriz and the band Haim – obsessed with the players’ butts) – is a great example of high-production strangeness.

All this, plus deep dives into daddy issues and deconstruction of toxic masculinity. Plus Canseco spends some time in a Sunken Place analogue and there’s an entire song and set piece built around bench-pressing women in bikinis.

It is, in a word, magnificent.

With the increasingly-splintered media landscape, creators can really dig down and hyperfocus on their target audiences. At this scale, there’s no need to shoot for four-quadrant appeal. Hell, something like “Bash Brothers” barely has ONE-quadrant appeal … but it appeals to me.

Obviously, my affection for the subjects/targets is in play here. I was just coming into my own as a fan when Canseco and McGwire blew up – I was at that age when baseball is just about the most important thing in the world. I pored over box scores in the paper every morning. I desperately sought out their baseball cards. And again – that poster was on my wall (and long after it probably should have been).

But you don’t have to care about these guys or even really know who they are to enjoy “Bash Brothers.” Yes, there are some jokes that land harder for fans of the late-80s A’s, but The Lonely Island’s execution is so good, so funny, that even if you’ve never heard of these guys, you’re still going to laugh. It’s a layered, almost shockingly nuanced piece of work; I’ve seen “Lemonade” tossed out there as a comp and it’s not as crazy a take as you might think.

From the moment the Lonely Island guys hit the mainstream consciousness through their exceptional digital shorts work on “Saturday Night Live,” it was clear that theirs was an electric talent, a comedic live wire that sizzled and sparked with inspiration and idiosyncrasies. The decade-plus that followed showed that their absurd sensibility could work across all platforms.

“Bash Brothers” is an opportunity for the trio to drill down even deeper into their own specific interests and influences to produce something undeniably personal and unabashedly weird. The piece goes HARD, yet never feels mean-spirited; their affection for Canseco and McGwire is omnipresent.

It’s rare for me to find a piece of entertainment that feels so thoroughly crafted for my specific tastes, yet here we are. “The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience” genuinely feels as though it were made especially for me; it is a smart, hilarious piece of work by a remarkably talented trio.

Last modified on Thursday, 30 May 2019 08:13

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