For as bizarre and disgusting as much of it is, the work of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim has long hearkened back to simpler, quainter times. And while their seminal Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! drew more on the feverish output produced by the rise of handheld camcorders and VHS technology in the ’80s and ’90s, one can also sense the impact of the era’s mass-market comedy on their own, specifically in their embrace of the eerie cognitive dissonance that accompanies a pre-recorded laugh track being played under jokes that barely register as such. The pair previously demonstrated their knowledge of the Bunim-Murray sitcom’s tropes and templates with the brilliant Bagboy, a one-off special starring John C. Reilly’s Dr. Steve Brule, and now they’re taking it a step further with Adult Swim’s hysterical Beef House, which officially kicks off its six-episode first season tonight after dropping its first episode early.
Beef House makes no effort to explain its core dynamic, which finds Tim’s rock and roll slacker living alongside three middle-aged oddballs—Awesome Show’s Ron Austar, Tennessee Luke, and Ben Hur—in the suburban home of Eric and his wife, Megan (Jamie-Lynn Sigler), who is both a detective and the only person on the show who appears to have a job. The lack of explanation for the circumstances—along with the amorphous, undefined idea of what, exactly, constitutes a “beef house”—ends up being one of the show’s biggest strengths, as it cleverly evokes how many ‘90s sitcoms ended up airing out of order and, given that they premiered in a pre-TiVo era, relied on viewers’ familiarity with the format to connect the dots on their own. That Beef House presents this strange, infantilized dynamic as both normal and heartwarming is not only hilarious, but also an amusing nod to its predecessors.
“Army Buddy Brad,” then, intentionally feels more like the third or fourth episode of a season rather than the first. And its premise is a familiar one: Eric, Tim, and the Beef Boys are preparing for their annual Easter egg hunt and fashion show when the titular, camouflaged Brad (Breaking Bad’s Michael Bowen) shows up looking for a place to stay. If you remember when Jesse Katsopolis’ sleazy cousin Stavros arrived on Full House, or when Mr. Belding’s cool, blonde brother Rod came to Bayside High, you’ll see where this is going. But it’s the journey, not the premise, that contains the Tim and Eric stamp: Megan, who seems repulsed by Eric, is instantly horny for Brad, who pops a visible boner after they hug; Tim is tenderly betrayed after catching Brad sniffing Megan’s underwear; and the Beef Boys rid themselves of Brad by cruelly exploiting his PTSD. Though it’s all presented with the pre-recorded laughs and howls, the content of the episode is viciously, hilariously dark.
But the juxtaposition wouldn’t work so well if there wasn’t an earnestness to its presentation. Heidecker told the New York Times they’re using the same cameras used on Netflix’s Fuller House, as well as the same person that show uses to mix its laugh tracks. The tone remains relentlessly upbeat—the portentous synths of their twisted sketches are used sparingly—and the central bond of the Beef Boys is presented without cynicism. Like much of their work, the show maintains an impressive balance of satire, reverence, and gleeful filth that’s both familiar and completely unlike anything else on TV.
- “I can probably explain that,” Eric says pleasantly after Brad asks “what the hell” is going on. The only thing funnier than the show’s grotesqueries are the random lines peppered in that feel plucked directly from TGIF.
- Tim’s pink suit is, like three times too big for him.
- Grown men searching for eggs on Easter morning is funny enough, but the “egg telescopes” take it over the top.
- Tim describes his music as “a little more Beach Boys, sort of ‘Kokomo’ era, with a little Moby influence, and, of course, Robby Zombie just in the textures and tones.” Heidecker’s affection for the Beach Boys pops up in a lot of his work, from his Office Hours podcast to his role in Jordan Peele’s Us.
- “I hope you enjoyed my sexy karate.”