As tempting as it is to pigeonhole Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories as a skewering of anthology-horror series such as Tales From The Crypt, Tales From The Darkside, and even The Twilight Zone, it’s also incorrect. Where a true parody would poke fun at the genre’s conventions, Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim actually embrace them to create a narrative that can be as funny and horrific as The Cryptkeeper himself, from the protagonist with a dark secret to the ending with an honest-to-God moral, however twisted it may be. Bedtime Stories isn’t their sendup of bite-sized terror—it’s merely their fractured-mirror image of it.
In their latest special—expanded to a whopping 30 minutes from the usual 15—the duo combines their version of the ‘90s horror story with their version of the ‘90s organized-crime story, already a sub-genre in itself thanks to films like Innocent Blood and Full Eclipse. Wareheim plays Gary Royce, a grown man who’s depressed because he’s addicted to eating—wait for it—soiled baby diapers. After meeting a local gangster (Heidecker) who slips him an elixir to help kick his habit, he gets blackmailed into the Henry Hill role of mafia errand boy (or, more accurately, Sauce Boy). That means picking up daily sandwiches for the mafiosos, cleaning bird droppings (“bird dirt”) off the stoop, and, of course, making a mean Sunday gravy.
While the beginning of the special explores Bedtime Stories’ usual horror hallmarks of long camera shots, ominous drone music, and the unsettling compulsion of cropophagia—to its credit, we never actually see the act happen, even at an AA-esque meeting for poo consumption—we’re in full-on Godfather and Goodfellas territory by the time the plot shifts to the mafia headquarters. Heidecker and Wareheim even cribbed one of the latter film’s actors, Johnny “Roast Beef” Williams—who memorably got offed in a pink Cadillac during the “Layla” montage—to make the Cosa Nostra tropes feel more authentic. Williams has carved out a nice career for himself playing mob heavies, so when he berates Gary for getting him a catfish po’ boy instead of crawfish (“They’re shit-eaters. You like to eat shit, pal?”), there’s nothing stilted, winking, or ironic about his tirade.
The same goes for an enforcer played by James Madio, a character actor who’s made his bones pretending to be a more weaselly kind of tough guy ever since his debut in Hook (he’s the wise-ass Lost Boy in the plaid suit). Heidecker and Wareheim could have easily pulled from their stock of awkward Cinco actors for either role, but the presence of Williams and Madio allows them to be more cinematic, to dream up their own epic crime film that just happens to have some demented Tim & Eric humor in it.
On first watch, it seems like Heidecker’s portrayal of Bobby Bologna—full of misused Sicilian-American slang like “paisan” and “maron’!” (he says it as a noun, not an exclamation)—goes against this aim at authenticity. But I’d argue that his performance plays into the greater Jash/Abso Lutely universe. Anyone familiar with the Decker web series knows that Heidecker’s increasingly interested in the idea of himself playing an incompetent version of himself playing (or at least trying to play) a badass. Bobby speaks with a rapidity and fluidity that Agent Jack Decker will never have, but he’s still off-kilter enough to be a source of bizarre comedy, whether he’s doing an exaggerated riff on Joe Pesci’s “Ping pow!” gestures from Goodfellas or eating scrambled eggs with his hands, then spitting coffee on them the way one would spit tobacco on the pavement.
In a departure from many previous chapters of Bedtime Stories and so many other Tim and Eric projects, the egg sequence—along with some foam in Gary’s mouth when he thinks he’s going through baby-shit withdraw—is about as gross as “Sauce Boy” gets. This unusual show of restraint actually lends some considerable dramatic weight to the episode’s ending. When Bobby’s forced to give away the Sauce Boy position to the son of a higher-ranking mob associate, he lets Gary go after revealing to him that the anti-diaper elixir was just a placebo. Like the catfish before him, Gary always has been a shit-eater and always will be a shit-eater. He protests for a moment, then accepts his fate and starts heading to the dumpster behind a Children’s Memorial Hospital, succumbing once more to his debilitating vice.
At this point, I was expecting a finale that delivered on the grossness the episode had withheld for so long. But we never get to see Gary open the dumpster and pig out on a soggy-Pampers buffet. Instead, he slowly walks to the hospital entrance as Bonnie “Prince” Billy begins to sing. “You’re doomed to live the life you’re meant to be,” croaks Will Oldham. The camera tightens in a small circle around Gary, fades to black, and we’re out. I suppose this could be read as a positive ending, especially since Bobby is so encouraging of Gary going back into the wild. He seems proud, fulfilled even, to send his friend off to a destiny he can never deny. Maybe Gary accepting that he’ll never be able to defeat his addiction will lead to a more fulfilling life.
Or maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe Gary will be happy for a time before collapsing in some hospital alley, feces smeared all over his lips as he slowly dies from e. coli. If you switch out that scenario with heroin or any other heavy drug (pretty easy to do since the episode never shows any actual baby shit), “Sauce Boy” suddenly becomes a whole lot scarier, because at the end of the day, the things we can’t change are often the things that do us in. That’s not exactly a profound lesson, but it’s a lesson nonetheless, and every good bedtime story should have a lesson, even if it comes from a strange mashup of horror and comedy—never parody, though.
- Holy Hell, I didn’t even get to Mama Pantone’s (Susan Berger) repertoire of songs “from the old country.” I’ll let you all discuss below. Was she truly as good as Ol’ Blue Eyes himself?
- Like every other episode of Bedtime Stories, “Sauce Boy” came blanketed in that unsettling haze found on cable TV in the ‘90s.
- The sauce actually looked pretty good until Gary squeezed the tomatoes with his hands.
- “That dirty-diaper taste in the back of your mouth—there’s nothing like it.”
- “Whatsamatta wit’ you, ya maron’? I’m a put a bullet in your head!”
- “When you’re addicted to diapers, you have a lot of kids.”