After a long period of struggling to develop new shows to accompany long time stalwarts The Daily Show/The Colbert Report and South Park, Comedy Central has had a pretty good run of developing original programming as of late. I don’t like Tosh.0 nor do many TV critics, but it’s a minor hit and has given the network its first success in the talk show genre (broadly defined) outside of the Stewart/Colbert axis in years.
On the sitcom side of things, Workaholics has been another surprise minor hit and also attracts a surprising amount of critical respect. And with Key and Peele and now Kroll Show the network has re-invigorated the sketch show genre.
The key with this new breed of sketch comedy shows, along with Portlandia on IFC, is that they have very specific points of view and targets of satire, as opposed to the tired Saturday Night Live approach of just trying to come up with skits about any random topic. Portlandia, of course, satirizes the lifestyles and obsessions of the citizens of an exaggerated version of Portland. Key and Peele concerns itself primarily with matters of race. The point of view of Kroll Show might seem harder to determine at first glance, but it’s clear to me that Nick Kroll’s goal is primarily to do a really well observed satire of what might be called bi-coastal “douche” culture.
While Kroll does the occasional skit which is merely a random flight of fancy, the vast majority of his sketch material concerns the various rich assholes and fame whores who populate New York City and Los Angeles and the ecosystem of useless businesses and Bravo reality shows which support them. This is most clear in Kroll Show‘s most consistent ongoing sketches, those which parody the Bravo reality shows. From the mothership of a show about two female publicists named Liz played ingeniously by Mr. Kroll and Jenny Slate called Publizity there is a whole universe of spin-offs, spin-offs of spin-offs, and spin-offs of spin-offs of spin-offs, concerning a plastic surgeon for dogs, his horrible son (played by Andy Milonakis) his son’s horrible friends etc. etc.
These sketches aren’t just note perfect parodies of Bravo reality shows with the stupid music cues, editing etc. done exactly right, they also have complex ongoing story lines and character development. This is another intriguing aspect of Kroll Show, what might be called serialization within the sketch show format, something that Portlandia is experimenting with increasingly this season as well. Few Kroll Show skits are simply one off sketches that abruptly end after the main joke has been repeated with a few variations as Saturday Night Live skits tend to. Instead the sketches have ongoing story arcs which are returned to multiple times within an episode and sometimes from episode to episode.
For instance the wonderfully named “Rich Dicks” sketch (in which the titular dicks are played by Mr. Kroll and his frequent cohort Jonathan C. Daly) on more conventional sketch shows might simply be a one-off in which the characters act like, well, rich dicks for a few minutes. Instead, the sketch is an ongoing serialized narrative broken up into chapters and has surprisingly complex plotting involving run-ins with Mexican drug cartels, stays in jail etc. While the criticism leveled at movies based on Saturday Night Live sketches is that that they take a one joke premise and strain to stretch it out to feature film length, the most fully realized Kroll Show characters already seem to be starring in their own ongoing films which we’re just checking in on from time to time.
A lot of this feeling of checking in on an ongoing narrative may stem from the fact that Kroll has been developing most of these characters in various formats such as short films and podcasts over the years, and the show may be in some way a “greatest hits” of sorts of their adventures over time. I was passingly familiar with his work before from his guest appearances on comedies ranging from Parks and Recreation to Reno 911 over the years, in the guise of such typical Kroll characters as morning DJs “El Chupacabra” and “The Douche,” but I’m surprised at how fully realized his comedic vision is.
His show is well worth checking out, and the series has already been renewed for a second season. New episodes are on Comedy Central every Wednesday at 10:30 Eastern/9:30 Central.