The creative resurgence in American television makes it easy to ignore the fact that broadcast networks and cable outlets still churn out a ton of garbage. But one man’s trash TV is another’s comedic gold, as demonstrated by the collected works of Abominable Pictures. Since bringing the medical-drama parody Childrens Hospital to the web in 2008, Abominable has developed some of the most razor-sharp TV sendups on and off TV, keeping a cabal of comedic talent employed while turning an eye for detail and absurdity on police procedurals (NTSF: SD: SUV::), newsmagazines (Newsreaders), and infomercials (You’re Whole). The key to these series involves taking concepts and formats that are inherently ludicrous—like “unlucky-in-love single seeks soulmate from a pool of complete strangers”—and escalating those qualities to newly absurd degrees.
The Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise began as an obscene parody of the way people date and fall in love; Burning Love, helmed by the husband-and-wife team of Ken Marino and Erica Oyama (he directs, she writes), takes those notions to heights no lunkheaded piece of dating-show meat or scheming reality-show operator would ever dare climb. In the series’ first season—which debuted online last summer before finding a cable home on E!—Marino stars as Mark Orlando, a firefighting blank slate onto which Oyama projects the clueless, emotionally negligent, ceaselessly desperate traits of the über-Bachelor. (Marino, forever deft with a well-meaning numbskull, plays the part to a T.) The characters vying for Mark’s affections are a cavalcade of dating-show archetypes with a few screws loose: Julie (June Diane Raphael) is a sweetheart with a dark secret; Haley (Natasha Leggero) wears no pants for her entire run on the show; Tamara (Deanna Russo) is a frontrunner frequently undone by the monkey heart beating futilely within her chest. In the hosting role, Michael Ian Black serves as the keenly observed cherry on top of Burning Love, turning up the smarm factor and looking like he’s one dumb “Hose Ceremony” decision away from smacking Mark during their one-on-one interviews.
Keywords: fictional reality, sleep with The State, looking for love in all the wrong places
Where to start: After ditching some of the more outlandish contestants—like Ken Jeong as the clearly-in-drag Ballerina—the series turns a spotlight on outwardly chaste Mandy (Kristen Bell) in its fourth episode. When the women are tasked to make Mark laugh as part of a stand-up-themed challenge, Bell pours all the confidence of Veronica Mars into her set, which pinpoints a deeply creepy childhood as the origin of her pious lifestyle. Burning Love seeks to do more than simply replicate its source material; in its dead-on parody of a goofy group challenge, the biggest laughs come from character details like Mandy’s whiplash-inducing transformation, or Mark’s admission that he doesn’t usually “get humor.” Capturing the spirit and the filmmaking styles of The Bachelor and its ilk in less than nine minutes is only part of Burning Love’s goals. It’s quickly identifying what works about these characters—and hitting all the right notes in that short span of time—that does the heaviest lifting, comedy-wise.
Where to watch: E! will air the first season of Burning Love as seven half-hour episodes beginning February 25 at 10 p.m. The show’s second season—where “damaged darling” Julie is courted by the likes of Adam Scott, Michael Cera, Rob Huebel, and a few actors who haven’t appeared alongside Marino on Childrens Hospital, Party Down, or The State—debuts on Valentine’s Day 2013, at Yahoo! Screen.