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Review

'Big Time in Hollywood, FL' a weak shot at absurd comedy

Mary McNamara
Contact ReporterLos Angeles Times Television Critic
Review: 'Big Time in Hollywood, FL' has funny moments but its leads are weak links to stronger support cast

Created by Alex Anfanger and Dan Schimpf, whose online series "Next Time on Lonny" was "discovered" by Ben Stiller, Comedy Central's new series, "Big Time in Hollywood, FL," chronicles the lives of two online filmmakers longing to be discovered by someone like Ben Stiller.

The fictional Jack (Anfanger) and Ben (Lenny Jacobson) are also thirtysomething brothers whose parents, played by Kathy Baker and Stephen Tobolowsky, think it's time they stopped remaking old movies in the garage and move out on their own.

In protest, Jack and Ben, with the aid of their uncomfortably dimwitted friend Del (Jon Bass), launch a childish deception that quickly leads to death, mayhem, a larcenous stint in rehab with Cuba Gooding Jr. and far too many nods to old Ben Stiller movies, especially "Tropic Thunder." (Stiller is also an executive producer of the series.)

Comedy Central is billing "Big Time," which premieres Wednesday, as its "first serialized comedy." That's accurate, though, in these days of genre fluidity, meaningless.

Attempting to wed the frenetic non-sequitur absurdity of Vine videos — a dinosaur hand puppet, say, screaming for cocaine — with the structure of dramatic television, "Big Time" also aspires to social commentary. It swings at as many social piñatas as it can think of, including Hollywood's fascination with itself, boomerang kids, helicopter parents, the casual violence of television, even the essential narcissism of storytelling itself.

All with a kind of self-conscious irony that makes "Big Time in Hollywood, FL" so meta, it's practically post-meta and generally more interesting to think about than watch.

Not always, though. There are moments when "Big Time in Hollywood, FL" is very funny, indeed, and enough of them to form a bread crumb trail through the forest. But the forest can be pretty tough going when the trouble with your show lies with the leads.

Jack and Ben are, of course, nowhere near as talented and fascinating as they think they are; that's part of the joke. Unfortunately, it's also true in the larger sense — the man-child slacker-artiste character is overfamiliar and trite, and neither Anfanger nor Jacobson knows how to transcend this.

Anfanger, whose Keene-eyed face fills the screen with alarming regularity, seems to think if he screams a lot his character will become funny, the way repeated profanity in those Vine videos do; Jacobson appears to have similar faith in his ability to look confused. Both are convinced that the hideous exploitation of Del will seem less hideous in the general absurdity of the context.

None of this is true, unfortunately. For the most part, the actions of the central triangle serve only to highlight the more understated yet sharply comedic performances of the supporting cast.

As indulgent parents come quietly to the end of their tether, Baker and Tobolowsky understand that the main ingredient of absurdity is believability. Which is to say humanity; as with horror, extreme humor works only if you recognize actual people at the center of the insanity.

Baker can do more with a blank stare under a scrunchie than Anfanger can do with a 15-minute rant, while Tobolowsky's stage-perfected singsong makes every word he utters a punch line.

Gooding is also fabulous as a version of himself (and looking good in a leopard-skin thong) as is Michael Madsen, who appears as a sweaty, bourbon-swilling PI for far too little time. Stiller too puts in a few amusing minutes in the pilot.

There is an undeniable teen-boy appeal to "Big Time in Hollywood, FL," and, more important, it pushes at another side of television's increasingly elastic envelope (it's a half-hour long, so it must be a comedy).

But when your show is best when its focus is not on the main players, you may need something more than a tommy gun loaded with pop culture references and the courage to let it rip.

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'Big Time in Hollywood, FL'

Where: Comedy Central

When: 10:30 p.m. Wednesday

Rating: TV-14-LV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with advisories for coarse language and violence)

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