Check It Out! With Dr. Steve Brule is the only show on television on which it’s disappointing to see the host hit his marks. But if he’s doing that more frequently this year, that’s the only technical improvement from the hilarious status quo. The Adult Swim cable-access parody is a triumph of ineptitude, with awkward graphics, clumsy editing, and mistimed lighting cues galore. John C. Reilly’s Brule is just as aggressively off, a mastermind of mispronunciation who’s prone to interrupting his guests whenever they threaten to educate. But he also projects a childlike sweetness, using insults no more adult than “dingus” and frequently giving his guests a friendly peck hello. The way Brule swings from alienating to inviting maps directly onto his show. The experience of watching Check It Out! is to careen wildly between laughter and repulsion—the joke isn’t just on Brule.
Consider the third season’s plots so far. In the first episode, Brule wants to learn about planes, so he visits an airfield in the hopes of riding in one. Unfortunately the pilot takes Brule’s new co-host for the first trip, so Brule commandeers a headset and reports from the ground. “Breaker breaker,” he says, babbling into the feed. The pilot breaks in: “Dr. Brule, please stop talking. We’re communicating with the tower.” Brule’s adamant that this is his show and he can do whatever he wants, and suddenly smoke starts pouring out of the plane and it crashes, reducing Brule’s co-host to a blackened corpse. In “Church,” Brule brings on a church musician, but the guy isn’t actually a church musician. He’s a strip club (and then some) owner named Don Jon Volante, and he coerces Brule into trying crack and sucking dick, both of which Brule later regrets. In “Home,” Brule visits a woman whose husband is dying—but he’s still lucid enough to recognize what’s happening in his own home. The man finally has one last seizure watching Brule and his wife share a bath on his monitor, the two scenes playing out in a whiplash montage. There is no subject on the planet that will not lead Brule down some dark alleys.
Those plot points are disturbing, but the most visceral reaction all season comes from the camera capturing a snippet of Brule eating his own booger. (Runner up: Brule gorging on airplane almonds and filling up a barf bag.) Then there are disquieting moments that are clearly technical problems but play as surreal horror, like a sudden coloring hiccup freezing a correspondent’s face and distorting him into a gargoyle. The host might be gross, but there’s terror in the show.
The death of Brule’s co-host lands not because of the inherent disaster—it’s the disastrous production. On the one hand, the show thrives on the tension of the “reality” within Brule’s interviews, but there’s no such tension when a plane goes down on an Adult Swim show. Then there’s the distance provided by the meta story in which Brule has a new, network-mandated stabilizing force, and watching the new season’s premise go down in flames is gratifying to anyone hoping that Brule can keep running wild. What’s provocative about the crash scene is the form: a sudden cut to a charred corpse, goosed sound effects of crispy limbs, the nightmarish haze of the video quality as Brule wanders a crash scene. Check It Out! finds the punch in videotape.
Season three feels a little lighter on the laughs than usual, but only a little. Whether it’s Brule hitting his marks or his director switching cameras in tune with him, Brule is often looking in the right direction at the right time, which is less funny than the wallpaper of mistakes the show usually puts up. Editing screw-ups abound, but there are fewer interruptions from the cable-access universe of Channel 5, a harmless Night Vale where the community bulletin suggests that viewers donate their own teeth. Sure, there’s the reliable Doug Prishpreed (Doug Foster) with sports, whose updates are never about sports and whose delivery feels secretly advised by off-screen instructions telling him to wave, pray, or twirl throughout his reporting. But there are no horoscopes and only occasional ad interruptions in the season so far. In short, Check It Out! is slightly better produced this season, and the audience is growing accustomed to the usual blunders.
Otherwise, season three is pretty much the same. And with even The Eric Andre Show getting a makeover, that’s no mean feat. Videotape flattens every color, scribbles every line, and smears all the action in Check It Out! A wide shot of a fancy home reveals so few details about the home that it’s worthless. Every jump in image alignment and fluctuation in quality makes the parody that much better. The series is ostensibly handmade by Brule and snuck onto the air, a story that doesn’t make much sense given what happens in each of these episodes, but one that earns some affection for the doctor. It’s easy to imagine him overlaying all those juicy Foley effects of bodily fluids to make sure the audience hears every lick, kiss, and slosh of saliva. Rest assured: Check It Out! looks as crappy as ever. That’s the best part.