by Michael Jones
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One of my favorite parts in Ken Burns’ “Jazz” involves pianist Cecil Taylor and how he believed for audiences to truly appreciate his avant-garde approach to jazz, they must prepare by listening to jazz hours before they come to his shows. Saxophonist Branford Marsalis calmly looks straight ahead at the interviewer and retorts, “That is the biggest load of shit I’ve heard in my life. I like baseball. Are you saying that in order for me to watch a game, I have to play catch for two hours beforehand?”
That pretty much sums up “Metalocalypse”—a program which requires a series of aspects in the audience: 1) Enthusiasm in metal music, 2) large amounts of psychotropic substances, 3) no memory that “Spinal Tap” was the exact same concept…only better and 4) the willingness to accept anything on-screen as funny and thus, a complete disregard for any standard of what is and what isn’t humorous. If you don’t have all four character traits, then this show is not meant for you.
The show’s premise is simple enough—the world’s most popular band is Dethklok a heavy metal band with a Wyld Stallions-type of sway over the world’s affairs. They can convince 300,000 people to sign over their lives at the concert near the Arctic Circle where the band plays only one song: a coffee jingle. One Ozzy Osborne lookalike, two pasty guitarists, one violent bassist with a lisp and a drummer named Pickles have that much pull. The plot gets hazy from here, but from the episodes I’ve witnessed, there’s an underground organization comprised of top government and business officials, a Phil Spector clone producer and a chef whose organs are kept together by machines after he was sliced to ribbons by a helicopter blade.
Like past and present Adult Swim classics like “Space Ghost,” “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” and “Home Movies,” “Metalocalypse” goes for the deadpan-absurd style of comedy. A silent background, followed by characters spouting off nonsensical dialogue lines like a Samuel Beckett play mixed in with base humor. But unlike the aforementioned shows, “Metalocalypse” can’t connect the dots between absurd and comedy. “ATHF” can derive its humor from not only the dialogue, but the fact that its three principal characters comprise an extra-value meal. “Home Movies,” created by “Metalocalypse” co-creator Brandon Small, had juxtaposed the bizarro dialogue with the suburban backset. “Metalocalypse” tries to put a group of rich dumbasses in the grocery store or a submarine and hope you’ll laugh and go, “Oh look, Ozzy Osborne is shopping! Ain’t that hilarious?”
“Metalocalypse” paints itself in this corner for two reasons: First, Small and partner, Tommy Blacha are in a slot with shows whose goals are not revenue, but setting the standard on cutting-edge cartoon irony. Anything that fails to meet the standard or exceed it are doomed to be exposed more quickly. It’s the “Simpsons” Effect, where shows like “Futurama” and “Family Guy” failed to catch on Fox not due to their humor, but their inability to stack up with arguably the most important show of the pop culture-crazy era. Similarly, if you put “Metalocalype” in the same format as “ATHF,” it’s going to be ugly. Second, it’s tough mine irony out of being “metal” when “Spinal Tap” laid claim to it twenty years ago and the one-joke show cannot generate enough funny from it’s one joke.
If there’s one thing about “Metalocalypse” that could aid its development, it’s the fact that it’s a fifteen-minute show during prime drunk-and-stoned hours. Notice I didn’t use “or” in reference to the hours. You will need both Cannabis and Coors (preferably a better alcohol refreshment than the bullshit Rocky Mountain brew) to get you through the quarter-hour of comedy. If enough people want it on, it could change into something better than its first episodes have shown. But then again, adapting might not be so “metal.”
Michael Jones is a film critic living in the Midwest.
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