I’ve been having trouble watching movies and TV lately, which is a shame, because watching movies and TV is one of the few readily available sources of entertainment left in this, the year of our quarantine 2020.
I’ve been having trouble watching movies and TV because, having no real life of my own left to cultivate outside my childhood home where I am currently quarantined with my parents, I find it difficult to relate to representations of humans living their lives and engaging in activities and social interactions, which is what most movies and TV shows are about. Even my go-to comfort shows like Sex & the City and The Mindy Project are no longer safe because they depict a pre-apocalyptic New York City, which is a thing I miss desperately when I am able to muster any feelings about anything at all. As comedian Dana Donnelly tweeted last month, “Literally every tv show is a period piece set in a pre coronavirus era.”
Fortunately, as if foreseeing exactly this dilemma, comedian Iliza Shlesinger made a show that takes place nowhere and is rooted, as much as anything can be, in the absurd. An uninterrupted rotation of sketches including parodies of TV shows and movie trailers, catheter ads and congressional campaigns, the Iliza Shlesinger Sketch Show hit Netflix on April 1, and it is a goddamn relief.
Interrupted only by brief transitions in which the next sketch appears to be selected from a Netflix-like streaming menu, the show exists in a world mercifully divorced from external reality. Immediately launching into the first sketch, a Jackass parody called “Female Jackass,” there are no introductions or explanations, nothing to remind us that we are humans in the world watching a show made by another human in the world. In the Iliza Shlesinger Sketch Show, the world is but a streaming menu, which, for the vast majority of us, it pretty much is right now.
Sketches range from silly to nonsensical, and each carries a healthy coating of absurdity to keep you from accidentally reflecting on your old life in the outside world. There are the more obvious parodies, like the above-mentioned “Female Jackass,” in which women perform emotionally risky stunts like texting their exes about an inside joke, or the “Ripped Fat Dude Workout” series, as well as more inane sketches featuring dueling Iowan congressional candidates debating the correct response for when someone knocks on the door of a bathroom you’re using, and a series of borderline unintelligible sketches depicting the ludicrous life and times of airline owner/lock enthusiast/likely kidnapper/former rat and mustard businessman Cashew Albacore. If that introduction doesn’t help you understand who or what that character is, don’t worry, because you still won’t really understand even after you watch the show.
None of this is to suggest that the show is without its share of witty, topical satire. Shlesinger’s wit still shines amid the inanity, from a sketch depicting a support group where confident women learn to minimize themselves in order to please others to an ad for Mom Alerts, a new app that sends warnings from a team of mothers about vague dangers throughout the world they heard about once and kind of remember.
I watched the entire thing in one uninterrupted sitting, letting the absurdity soothe my pandemic anxieties as each episode glided seamlessly into the next to the tune of the theme music: “Play Pretend” by Smallpools, which is a fucking delight. From the opening line, “Slip into your house shoes,” the song is an accidental quarantine anthem. All of our shoes are house shoes now. What even are shoes? It doesn’t matter. Our worlds have been reduced to a streaming menu, and the Iliza Shlesinger Sketch Show, against all odds, is the only relatable depiction of the world as we know it today. Go forth and lose yourself in the nonsense.
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