Filed under: Underground & Overseas
This could be a tough sell. Many of the things that I love about The Heart She Holler will inevitably be the same things that turn off more conservative viewers from actually watching it. Its virtues will become its faults. One man's comedic treasure is another man's (probably a much older and prudish) trash. As I mention later on, the show was created by the guys who masterminded the awe-inspiring MTV sleeper, Wonder Showzen. Which means, you're either gonna love T.H.S.H. or hate it.
Me? I love it.
Conan O'Brien described an ideal comedic mind as one that simply "thinks incorrectly." (Listen: Nerdist podcast.) Vernon Chatman and John Lee, the creators of The Heart She Holler epitomize O'Brien's words. There is nothing right about this show, or any of their previous work. Normal and well adjusted people could not have come up with the scenes that play out in this six episode mini-series. By the way, I mean all of this as a compliment. The Cartoon Network's Adult Swim has put their chips on the right number this time. I love this show in a creepy and uncomfortable way. But frankly, that is exactly how Boss Hoss would have wanted it.
It's as if David Lynch and a young Mark Romanek collaborated on a one-off episode of General Hospital ("I doctored you... all night long.") or As the World Turns, set in the deep, deep South. I won't bury the lead: It is a story that features a couple rapes, a few murders and multiple scenes of unnecessary (and hallucinated) surgery. Cross Stanley Kubrick's The Shining with John Boorman's Deliverance; add some Hee Haw-esque jokes and scenes shot in reverse for no apparent reason other than to unsettle the audience, and you'll get pretty damn close. Yes, it's a comedy, but if you go in expecting ONLY A COMEDY, you may be disappointed. Go in expecting a little horror too. But not the Eli Roth/ Edgar Wright style of comedic horror (as much as I do love it). This is something totally different.
Think Mark Twain reinterpreted by Bret Easton Ellis. Think The Andy Griffith Show if it had been helmed by Harmony Korine. Enough hyperbole. I only make these comparisons because the material truly deserves it. This is not some kind of "Mistake-ist" improv-comedy lucky accident. Every turn is carefully played. This abortion was conceived with love and affection.
The series is set on a redneck populated compound, a holler to those Appalachians in the know, where several generations of incest, violence and religion have all twisted together to form The Heartshe Clan. The patriarch, Boss Hoss has recently died, leaving behind an absurdly detailed video will (some of the funniest moments involve the sheer volume of video tapes available for every inconceivable occasion) through which he dictates instructions to his successor: his secret son, Hurlan. Played by Patton Oswalt as a slack jawed simpleton who has lived a Kaspar Hauser-like upbringing, the performance deserves acclaim for making such a base and stupid character so loveable. The ensuing episodes follow the rest of the family and town-folk in their attempts to overthrow their idiotic new overlord.
Having sprung from the minds of John Lee and Vernon Chatman, the creators of Wonder Showzen and Xavier: Renegade Angel, it should come as no surprise that much of the comedy is hysterically crude. No joke is too far. Literally anything goes. (Examples: The Golden Slave. The bloody vanishing entrails. The shameless Easy Glide Strip endorsements.) Bizarrely, their sense of humor leans a bit towards the old fashioned. To explain: It is becoming increasingly rare to be able to describe an animal rape joke as 'hokey', but Chatman and Lee enviably corner that particular market. (Again: all compliments!)
The entire cast is phenomenal in their roles, as they unabashedly chew up the scenery. Kristen Schaal is without a doubt my favorite female comedian alive, and she is spectacular as the sexually promiscuous Ambrosia, who snarls her way through several affairs and an unintentional abortion. (Which plays much funnier than it sounds.) Another standout is Leo Fitzpatrick, (Telly from Kids; Johnny Weeks from The Wire) who plays the town's Preacher, a deeply religious but sexually confused man. Scenes depicting Fitzpatrick's 'relationship' with a bible lead to some great Bunuel-esque moments.
In contrast, Oswalt's imbecilic man-child protagonist comes across as oddly adorable. He wears a one piece child's pajamas and night cap to bed... After someone is stabbed to death, he sits cross legged on the rug, innocently playing with the corpse... At one point, he will spend an entire episode trying to crack open a walnut.
Despite all the madness, Oswalt manages to play the character in such a way that we kinda-sorta like and root for him. He is the anchor that allows this hilariously racist-twisted logic-stream of consciousness chamber play to (partially) make sense. Without him, you'd be stuck with something akin to The Drunk and on Drugs Happy Funtime Hour, a show that may be funny, but I'll be a monkey's uncle if I can sit through an episode.
The Heart She Holler is an overtly-melodramatic slice of psychotic Americana. I haven't loved a new comedy with this intensity since the release of Louie. Comedy writers the world over should bow at Chatman and Lee's feet for doing something so defiantly ballsy. Sadly, I have a feeling that this show will not be picked up for a second season. (I hope I'm wrong about that.) Perhaps it is my lingering distrust of giant corporations, but I just don't see any level-headed, responsible adults giving these guys any more money to make something that would inspire someone like me to write... well, an article like this. I haven't exactly described Avatar here, if you know (financially) what I mean.
Screw it. Its only 6 episodes; each with an 11 minute running time, as is the Adult Swim style, so why not, I ask thee. Trust me on this one. You owe it to yourself.
And to MeeMaw.
Tony is on Twitter.
Tony Hinds is a Canadian writer who studied film at the University of Winnipeg. In addition to ShowbizMonkeys.com, Tony has reviewed films for Step On Magazine and The Uniter. You can find Tony on Twitter.