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TV Picks: Nick Offerman, Pee-Wee Herman, Glen Campbell, 'Young Hillary' and real-time reindeer

TV Picks: Nick Offerman, Pee-Wee Herman, Glen Campbell, 'Young Hillary' and real-time reindeer
Nick Offerman silently enjoys Scotch whisky for 45 minutes in a holiday edition of his Web series, "My Tales of Whisky."

Animal Planet Live! Reindeer Cam (Animal Planet Live); "Nick Offerman's 'Yule Log'" (My Tales of Whisky/YouTube). Two Web offerings ask the question, what is action? Animal Planet's live stream lets you watch reindeer -- you won't be wrong if you call them caribou -- in real time from the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in St. Paul, Minn. They wander in and out of the frame and are sometimes hidden by a big tree inconveniently placed at its center. But they're majestic when you see them -- hanging out, nosing the ground, facing the wall for no clear reason -- and the Christmas music plays nonstop. Visits from Santa, or more likely some person claiming to be Santa, are scheduled on Dec. 18, 22 and 23 at 11 a.m. Pacific. The snow appears to be real. Playful Arctic foxes can be glimpsed upstage left, your right, in the long shots.

A holiday episode of Nick Offerman's "My Tales of Whisky" alcoholic Web travelogue, "Yule Log," presents the former Ron Swanson sitting quietly in a big leather armchair, sipping single-malt Scotch for 45 minutes next to a roaring fire. Sometimes he looks into the camera. Sometimes his legs are crossed, and sometimes they are not. He caresses his glass. He seems content.

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"Tim and Eric's Bedtime Stories Christmas Special" (Adult Swim, Friday); "Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter" (Adult Swim, Monday through Friday). The humor of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, of "Awesome Show, Great Job!" and "Tom Goes to the Mayor" and sundry other enterprises together and apart, can be an upsetting and destabilizing and at times sickening thing, like standing on the deck of a small boat in a bad storm. It is a pleasure of a very particular sort, and "Tornado," the holiday special they have devised for their occasional horror anthology "Bedtime Stories" -- like "Die Hard," it is a Christmas story mostly by virtue of its delivery date and some seasonal decorations -- is not a tale calculated to leave you full of happy, warm thoughts and feelings. Like many Tim and Eric enterprises, it lives in a world at once dully familiar and a few degrees off kilter. Zach Gilford stars as a young man whose excessive masturbation as a teenager has repercussions in later life, Lance Reddick is a Mephistophelean lawyer, Kurtwood Smith a creepy priest, Cynthia Stevenson (a favorite of this department since "Hope & Gloria," back in the pre-New-Golden-Age Age) Gilford's mother. Funny strange and funny ha-ha meet here, like matter and anti-matter.

Jon Glaser is a hero for hire with a sideline in "fine erotic fiction" in the Adult Swim miniseries "Neon Joe Werewolf Hunter."
Jon Glaser is a hero for hire with a sideline in "fine erotic fiction" in the Adult Swim miniseries "Neon Joe Werewolf Hunter." (Jojo Whilden / Adult Swim)

In a similar spirit, which more broadly is the spirit of Adult Swim, is "Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter," a miniseries that begins Monday at midnight and continues at that hour through the week. Creator-star Jon Glaser, the obnoxious Councilman Jamm on "Parks and Recreation," puts on what I think is a Cajun accent and some very yellow duds to play a gun-toting, one-eyed werewolf killer cum pseudonymous author of "fine erotic fiction." As he did in Glaser's weird tale of witness protection, "Delocated," Paul Rudd guests in the opening episode, playing himself as the series' first victim. "I know we are all upset about what happened last night to Paul Rudd -- I'm upset. I saw him in 'Ant Man' and he was terrific," says mayor of Garrity, Vt., Stephanie March ("Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"); along with town doctor Damian Young (bus driver Stu in "The Adventures of Pete and Pete," to cite the credit I will always find most meaningful) and town barkeep Scott Adsit ("30 Rock"), she hides a secret from a different genre of genre film. The humor is violent and sometimes sexual but so purposefully childish that you'd have to strain a little find it offensive. There are nods to "Jaws" in the pilot; much of the second episode is a riff on Steven King's "Misery."

"The Adventures of Young Hillary" (Above Average/YouTube). The Wellesley years of Hillary Clinton are given speculative life in this Web series written by (and costarring) Nicole Drespel and featuring fellow UCB performer/Above Average staff writer Joanna Bradley as the future first lady, senator from New York, secretary of State and presidential candidate." Bradley, also a contemporary Clinton in the standalone Above Average video "Hillary Clinton's Chipotle Order," plays her as confident, hearty and a little alien, happily confirmed in her stiffness, eyes straight ahead. ("Jeff, thank you for coming to my dorm room for this coupling session -- I've prepared an agenda," she says to a date in the episode "Romance with Hillary Rodham," before setting the mood with some John Philip Sousa.) Working in the library in "Hillary in the Stacks," she counsels a fellow student against Shakespeare ("Juliet goes to a party, marries a boy, and then kills herself -- bored now"). Sharing secrets at a slumber party, she reveals, "My secret is always wake up half an hour before I have to so I can get a jump start on the day," and asked if she knows any jokes in "Harvard Party," she mentions "Robert McNamara's handling of the rising cost of our involvement in Vietnam -- the joke is that his irresponsible expenditure is a joke." As in nearly all Hillary impersonations, her laugh comes into it; Bradley's is particularly distressing. ("Don't laugh," she is advised, "Never laugh.")

"Pee-Wee's Playhouse Christmas Special" (Shout Factory Blu-ray); "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour Christmas Specials" (Shout Factory DVD). Besides their holiday theme, the secret link between these two packages is, as you can probably see coming, Cher (or "Miss Cher," as Campbell prefers to call her). The Campbell set comprises two full-hour specials, from 1969 and 1970, deep in the heart of the suede and sideburns years; Cher appears in the earlier of the two, glamorous but not yet glam, in a career slump between initial pop success and TV comeback, to sing "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay," duet with Campbell on "Jingle Bells" and hang out on the couch between Campbell and Center Square Paul Lynde in a soundstage living room for a medley of carols.

In other segments, Lynde plays a disgruntled Santa unloading to Andy Griffith's bartender, and Campbell helps Griffith assemble a big Japanese toy ("Take Part A; please to place in front of person and please to grasping hand between thumb of right hand and wheel which is humbly furnished"). Campbell, whose latter-day comeback ran straight into his Alzheimer's, was a down-the-middle pop star in those years; time has made his music hipper and his gifts clearer. (He sings beautifully, wrangles a mean guitar.) In the '69 special, he performs his Jimmy Webb-penned hits "Galveston" and "Wichita Lineman" and leans hard into a fill-filled version of Mason Williams' "Classical Gas." The second special, with guests including Anne Murray, Mel Tillis, Jerry Reed and Campbell's singing parents and sisters (Shecky Greene and George Gobel bring the comedy), trends more country, and more Christmas, and is somewhat less splendid.

In the 1988 Pee-Wee Herman special (also available as part of last year's complete "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" great-looking Blu-ray set), Cher comes on looking like Mozart's Queen of the Night to learn the day's secret word. (Conveniently to the calendar, it's "year.") She's one of a roster of guests that includes such bigger-than-life humans of the late 20th century as Charo, Zsa Zsa Gabor, the Del Rubio Triplets, Whoopi Goldberg and Magic Johnson (visiting his "cousin," the Magic Screen). Grace Jones, in a fearsome molded bustier, performs "The Little Drummer Boy"; k.d. lang, in the cowgirl drag she favored then, sings "Jingle Bell Rock." Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello demonstrate a knowledge of crafts that lands them under Playhouse arrest, making Pee-Wee's Christmas cards. Little Richard tries to skate. Joan Rivers, Dinah Shore and Oprah Winfrey are in there, too, as is, naturally, Santa, who comes to deliver the news that Pee-Wee's list is so long it's crowded out Christmas for everyone else (Pee-Wee will have a decision to make). Plus "Playhouse" regulars including Laurence Fishburne's Jheri-curled Cowboy Curtis and S. Epatha Merkerson as Reba the Mail Lady, Conky, Chairy, Jambi, Randy, Floory, the fish and the dinosaurs (who, like, Mrs. Renee from next door, are Jewish). Everyone brings fruitcake.

In matters of gender and age and color and colorfulness and otheress, "Playhouse" was ahead of television -- it embraced everything, if at times with a necessary wink -- but perfectly in tune with its own metropolitan, cosmopolitan cultural moment. Uniquely among "Playhouse" episodes, the special takes the action "outdoors," to frolic in the woods and fake snow.

Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd

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