If the year was 1992 and the protagonist of Bagboy was played by Jaleel White, this special would (mostly) come off like an episode of any number of TGIF shows. But Bagboy isn’t Steve Urkel—he’s Dr. Steve Brule, and that’s the whole icky concept. What would happen if the cast of a late-’80s/early ’90s sitcom was swapped out with a host of weirdos from Brule’s own show and the Cinco network?
Any longtime Tim & Eric fan—especially anyone who saw their most recent tour with John C. Reilly as Brule, where they showed the first half of this “lost” pilot—will know exactly what to expect from Bagboy: lots of awkwardness, pained mugging, and an ending that may or may not spiral into darkness. But despite possessing these hallmarks of the Abso Lutely brand, the show manages to stand out for being relatively straightforward. Where as Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! was characterized by its nightmarish editing and cinematography, Bagboy sticks to a standard three-camera approach, letting most of the bizarreness come from the performances. We’ve all seen a cold open where a sitcom character—whether it’s Urkel, Joey Gladstone, or some other wholesome klutz—does a pratfall. But when it’s the Bagboy—a role that should be played by a teenager and not a middle-aged man—slipping on the floor he just mopped at Meyer’s Superfoods, we see him fall, mutter to himself, break his hip, vomit, then stumble on his own lung-butter before grimacing at the camera. It’s Reilly as Brule as Bagboy trying—and failing—to get through his own show.
What’s really cringe-worthy is that Brule—who started out as an impaired man-child on Tim & Eric before becoming more frustrated and deranged on his educational series, Check It Out!—ends up being one of the more capable actors on Bagboy. As we drift through an aimless, completely sitcom plot about Brule trying to catch a shoplifter so he can get rewarded 10 cans and win the affection of the pretty cashier, he has to feed lines to the other performers and even tell Abso Lutely staple David Liebe-Hart when his head is creeping into his puppet’s camera frame. For those keeping score at home, Liebe-Hart mostly stuck to puppeteering a cat named Jason on Tim & Eric. Here, it’s a dog named—wait for it—Dog.
The Dog moments definitely come off as a little surreal, as does Bagboy’s mother smuggling in his bagged lunch under her dress, and a finale that involves the grocery store’s butcher wanting to chop up the shoplifter—who turns out to be Daisy the cashier’s little brother—into canned meat. But none of these plot elements go into full-on nightmare-television territory, and pretty much every other comedic bit—Reilly walking into a glass door, a rivalry with a “hunk” stock boy named Chip, and even a cameo from Micky Dolenz—would feel like typical sitcom fare if everyone’s acting skills weren’t so strange and terrible.
Of course, the question with anything involving Tim & Eric, who wrote and created Bagboy with Reilly, is how intentionally strange and terrible the actors are being. Here, there’s a perfect mixture of those who are self-aware and those who are sincere. Reilly obviously knows how to match the stiltedness of every misfit who walks on camera, and the younger actors playing the cashier and Chip seem to know what’s going on as well. Everyone else, however, seems like they’re trying very hard to a good job because, let’s face it, they are trying very hard to do a good job. But their cheesy costumes and fake character names don’t change the fact that these are actors who have a hard time being anything other than themselves. In other words, they’re actors straight out of Brule’s universe. And that’s always been one of the key elements of Abso Lutely’s comedy—the inability to cover up weirdness.
Still, I’m predicting that Bagboy won’t get as many comparisons to other Abso Lutely projects as it will to “Too Many Cooks,” even if the former was actually filmed years before the latter. After all, they both feature puppet sidekicks and riff on sitcom tropes. But can Bagboy even be considered a riff? It doesn’t feel like a subversion as much as an intentional failure, an experiment where Tim, Eric, and Reilly wrote something shitty and cast actors who they knew would only make it shittier. But hey, I’d rather watch self-conscious shittiness than unconscious mediocrity. And I’d rather watch Bagboy than most other sitcoms.
- Since Bagboy’s being billed as a “special,” I doubt there’s more than one episode of this. But God, I hope there is.
- Let’s see if we can list all the different can flavors in the comments section. Going strictly off of memory, I spotted Country Style Pork Cube, White Food Medley, Smelly Beans, Boiled Hooves, and of course, Puddlefish.
- Of all the gross shit we’ve seen Dr. Steve Brule do in the past, nothing grosses me out more than his tender head kisses.
- “What are you, some kind of monkey?” “Actually, I am.”
- “Give me that bag, boy.”
- “It ain’t dog food, Dog.”
- “Steve, who are you talking to?” “Oh, just whistlin’ Dixie.”
- “I’m not doing it to teach him a lesson. I’m doing it for the joy of killing.”