It’s not hard to make a comedy set in the already absurd world of south Florida (Dave Barry and Carl Hiaasen have made careers off of it). But Comedy Central’s Big Time in Hollywood, FL is so grandiose in its humor and storytelling that it only needs to use the area’s pastel colors and manicured, waterfront lawns as background for its much larger schemes.
The heightened reality and cinematic touchstones of the half-hour comedy series, created by Dan Schimpf and Alex Anfanger (who also stars), borrows from series like The Last Mans, with nods to the foul jokes and crass cutaways of Eastbound & Down, and owes a lot of its tone (and penchant for yelling) to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. But Big Time also has its own ambitions, and charts its own unique comic course with only minor hiccups.
The series follows two brothers in their early 30s, Jack (Anfanger) and Ben (Lenny Jacobson), who live at home and make movies — with titles like “Bad Cop, Worse Cop 2” and “Blind for Life” — in their parents’ garage. The show begins when their parents (played with excellent deadpan humor by Kathy Baker and Stephen Tobolowsky) tell them they need to move out and get jobs. That certainly isn’t new ground, narratively speaking, but Jack and Ben’s immediate overreaction to the horror of this thought sends them on a chaos-driven series of bad decisions.
One thing that makes Big Time distinct as a comedy is that, like the great Comedy Central series Review with Forrest McNeil, it engages in linear storytelling. Big Time‘s world builds on itself episode by episode, with mistakes and decisions made in the premiere coming back to haunt the brothers (and their slow friend Del, played by Jon Bass), as they find increasingly insane ways to not only stay ahead of being caught in their lies, but also continually attempt to “make it” as actors and directors.
Things take another big turn in the fourth episode, when the brothers (now in drug rehab, to get out of another lie) meet Cuba Gooding, Jr. (or “CG2,” as Jack calls him), who plays a fictionalized version of himself. Standing in the late afternoon Florida sun out on a boat in a cheetah-print thong, Gooding snorts massive lines of cocaine as his agent asks him if he did in fact steal $50 out of Steven Spielberg‘s wallet at a meeting earlier. He, too, goes to rehab, and forms an uneasy alliance with the dopey brothers (“I just got choked by an Oscar winner, that was awesome!”), who he hopes to use to get him out of his own troubles.
Big Time in Hollywood, FL trades in a lot of big, broad, loud humor (not all of which lands, particularly regarding Del), but it’s in the show’s more subtle, recurring jokes where things really get funny. The brothers are inexplicably cruel towards their sweet, pushover dad Alan who, along with their mother Diana, is always a few steps behind their sons. (Baker as Diana also delivers some fantastic throwaway lines, like when an actor playing a drug dealer — a cameo by executive producer Ben Stiller — calls her Caucasian son a “chink:” “Well he’s obviously a racist drug dealer!” she exclaims, after her husband questions the word choice). The movie allusions and satirical digs at action and thriller films are also great fun, especially since they are augmented by Jack and Ben’s sincerity to make one just like that themselves.
Like Jack and Ben, Big Time in Hollywood, FL is ambitious. Though not everything in the series works, Schimpf and Anfanger have managed to cobble together a likable show with an excellent supporting cast (including Michael Madsen and Keith David), and one that has a style that connects a lot of their more disparate themes when the jokes falter. Here’s hoping it reaches the heights of its grand designs, even though, as Jack says, “we were this close to living the dream, and then dad spit on his dick and totally fucked us.”
★★★ Good — Proceed with cautious optimism
Big Time in Hollywood, FL premieres March 25th at 10:30 p.m. on Comedy Central