Weekly Web Series Review: Between Two Ferns

Hosted by Zach Galifianakis at his most awkward, “Between Two Ferns” represents what television talk shows might actually be like in a much more interesting world. Filmed to look like a low-budget public access show, but with big-name celebrity guests, the series mines uncomfortable humor to the fullest. Galifianakis frequently mispronounces the names of his guests and openly insults them, creating an environment of hostility that often feels almost too real. When not blatantly mispronouncing names, he is prone to making intentionally terrible puns out of them, like when he asks Jon Hamm if his middle name is “Honey-Baked,” or if he has considered changing his name to something like “Stewart Turkey-Link.”

The discomfort starts strong right out of the gate in the first episode, in which Galifianakis basically molests Michael Cera. There is a common thread of one-sided sexual tension in many of the episodes, and certainly not just with the female guests, though it may be strongest in the episode featuring Natalie Portman. It is a testament to her skill as an “acteress” that this episode is one of the most authentic, as if she were actually just in the midst of a nightmarish interview set up by the most incompetent agent imaginable. Other episodes are more clearly staged, and perhaps the weakest is the one with Will Ferrell, if only because the two are generally too chummy with each other, at least until the end.

The series is at its best when Galifianakis is openly hostile to his guests, like the episodes featuring Ben Stiller and “Brad Lee Cooper.” Though this hostility is common throughout the series, only “Conan O. Brien” gets an explanation, which is that Galifianakis thought he had a shot at “The Tonight Show.” Another especially convincing episode features Galifianakis’ “twin brother,” Seth, interviewing a wooden-faced Sean Penn, who really seems like he might haul off and punch Galifianakis at any moment. As with Portman, it is Penn’s acting skill that pulls off the joke so well.

A pitch-perfect spoof of bad, desperate public access talk shows, “Between Two Ferns” is easily one of the best offerings from the always enjoyable Funny or Die. Even the opening and closing theme music feels authentic, though it is actually lifted from Bernard Herrmann‘s “Taxi Driver” score, which adds to Galifianakis’ creepy, angry vibe. I’m not sure how well it would work as a full-length show on television, but in the small segments available online, it is hilarious.

  

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Chris Elliott (“Eagleheart”)

Chris Elliott has comedy in his genes, courtesy of his father, Bob Elliott (of the legendary comedy team Bob & Ray), and he’s passed his abilities on to the next generation, as his daughter Abby Elliott proves week after week on “Saturday Night Live,” but, geez, enough about his dad and kid already. Surely it’s time to shine the spotlight solely on Chris Elliott himself, who first won our hearts with his decidedly unique characters on “Late Night with David Letterman,” completely blew the minds of a generation of moviegoers with his film “Cabin Boy,” and has since gone on to appear in everything from “Manhunter” to “Everybody Loves Raymond.” On April 12, his current endeavor – Adult Swim’s “Eagleheart” – returns for its second season, just over a week after the DVD release of Season One, which hit stores on Tuesday. Bullz-Eye chatted with him…okay, fine, we geeked out…about the more eccentric side of his comedy, including his seminal TV series “Get A Life,” which, as you may have read elsewhere first (although it came from this interview), is coming to DVD in a complete-series set at long last.

Bullz-Eye: First off, let me just tell you what a pleasure it is to talk to you. I’ve been a fan for many years.

Chris Elliott: Oh, well, thank you. I just don’t hear that enough. [Laughs.]

BE: In my case, it’s no exaggeration: when I was in high school, I sent off for tickets for “Late Night with David Letterman.” Granted, I had graduated by the time I actually got them, but, hey, at least I got them.

CE: Oh, my gosh. That’s pretty funny. So did you actually wait four years for tickets?

BE: No, but it was more than a year: I sent them off during my senior year, and it was well after graduation when they finally arrived.

CE: Wow, that’s pretty amazing. But it proves that you were a hardcore fan. Do you remember who was on the show when you went?

BE: Absolutely: it was Jane Pauley and Bruno Kirby. I also remember that they did Shoe Removal Races that night, with a podiatrist squaring off against a shoe salesman.

CE: Ah, yes, that was an excellent episode. [Laughs.]

BE: You were actually just on Letterman’s show a few nights ago. It sounded like you may have taken a bit of flour into your lungs.

CE: [Laughs.] I started to smell like cookies after I was under the lights for a little while. But I thought it came off all right. It’s always fun to go back there, and I hate coming back on there as myself in any form. This interview is okay because I can’t see you. [Laughs.] But I don’t like coming on and just talking as myself, so I always come on with something.

BE: The “Downton Abbey” thing was great, too.

CE: Yeah, I thought that came out great.

BE: So let’s talk “Eagleheart.” One of the most surprising things about the series, at least to me, is that you don’t actually get a writing credit on the show. Not that you don’t have some input, given that you’re a consulting producer, but…

CE: I’d say these guys have my voice down. I knew that when I met with them. They were huge fans of mine, and, honestly, I didn’t want the extra work. [Laughs.] And at the same time, y’know, they changed the pilot quite a bit to suit me, and what I do – and Adam Resnick does this, also – is sort of take a pass at the scripts when they’re done with them and change a couple of jokes here and there, and if something’s not quite in my voice, I just kind of paraphrase what I would be saying, and that sort of thing. I’m sort of at the point in my career where writers that are working in the business sort of grew up knowing about me. At least the ones that are fans of mine, anyway. And they’re really capable of writing for me. It wasn’t always that case. Early on in my career, it was pretty much Adam and me just trying to establish this voice.

BE: Of course, it makes me wonder if people sometimes come to you with something utterly off the wall, saying, “Well, ‘Cabin Boy’ was so nuts that I figured you’d be into this.’

CE: Yeah, I think I get that a lot. It’s interesting: some people put anything weird in the “weird” category and think, “Oh, Chris’ll do that because it’s so weird.” But you’re right. Certain people, like yourself, get why certain things are funny-weird as opposed to just being strange. That’s a different breed. I think I do get lumped in a lot with “he’s just off the wall, he’s crazy.”

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An okay evening at Spike TV’s “Guys Choice” Awards

We’re fussy about Red Carpet events here at Bullz-Eye central. That’s largely because as a lone, online writer you’re pretty much at the mercy of the publicity gods in terms of who you’re going to meet up with and you never know who that’s going to be. One condition we have is that we get to see the show/movie/what-have-you in question so, if all else fails, we can write about that or at least get a bit of entertainment and free food. In this case, that was a good thing. Not because we didn’t get to talk to anybody interesting, but because Spike TV’s “Guys Choice” presentation, which premieres on the network at 9:00 Eastern/6:00 PDT Friday is not your usual award show.

Right down to the sexy female dancers who liven up the breaks and its highly distinctive award statue, “the Mantlers,” it’s easily the most laid back and honestly silly awards show I’ve seen. It’s also the only award show we know of which contains R-rated profanity in one of its award titles: the “Funniest Motherf*cker” award, this year being given to Jim Carrey. It’s safe the say the show was completely irreverent about everything, except for its commendable commitment to drawing attention to the bravery and sacrifices made by members of our armed forces.

Speaking of Jim Carrey, the famed comic provided a remarkable bit of comedy dealing with the always absolutely never hilarious topic of..oh, Lord, we’d better just leave it alone. You don’t want to know. Carrey himself made it clear that children and other sensitive people were better off not hearing the routine before proceeding with a shocking and explosively funny performance, abetted by the sensitive stylings of violinist Neil Hammond.

More traditionally edgy and hilarious at certain points, but a lot longer, was a marathon bit by faux canine Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog, aka comic genius Robert Smigel. The latter merited a bad on-camera review from Sean Penn who between this show and his criticism of Ricky Gervais at Golden Globes, seems to be developing a side career as a real-time award show comedy critic.

Mila Kunis at the Spike Guy's Choice AwardsJustin Timberlake less controversially proved himself to be, once again, no comic slouch, while promoting the charms of the co-star of his next flick, “Friends with Benefits,” the beautiful and talented Mila Kunis. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards distinguished himself by simply being alive to pick up his award and being the innately humourous individual he is.

And so it went. I’ll have a few choice quotes from the show at the end of this piece. First, though, let’s talk about the folks we met on the Red Carpet.

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