Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim’s path has been a strange one. Their humour is unpredictable, and quite often stems from rejecting comedy altogether. They frequently collaborate with big name actors and comedians, including Bob Odenkirk, Will Forte, John C. Reilly and even Will Ferrell. The calibre of their frequent collaborators is fairly substantial, especially when you consider their avant-garde approach when it comes to avoiding punchlines. But as of late, they’ve been heading in a more artful, somewhat Lynch and Coen Bros-inspired direction.
With Bedtime Stories, their own Twilight Zone type anthology series, this direction is showcased to its full extent. They’ve gradually been building to this style throughout their career, with their HBO shorts and the most recent season of the John C. Reilly-starring Check it Out! proudly broadcasting their desire to move things in a darker direction. But any preconceived notions of a Tim and Eric show will offer little insight into what Bedtime Stories actually entails. Laughs aren’t the primary objective, and ‘Hole’, the first episode of the series, makes this evident from its chilling conclusion.
There are flashes of Tim and Eric’s signature style here and there—the peculiar pronunciations of certain words in particular—but this is a lot different than what we’re used to from the duo. Fans of their previous output will be far from disappointed, though, with the higher budget and flair allowing a lot of their surreal aspects to present themselves less crudely and more subtly than before. Bombastic green screen effects are out, and moody shots of existential longing are in. The atmosphere is ratcheted up considerably, even if the running time unfortunately doesn’t allow the first episode to reach its climax as dramatically as it really deserves.
But, with the potential for a wildly different story and tone each week, future episodes of Bedtime Stories seem immensely promising. The second episode, the Bob Odenkirk-starring ‘Toes’, is somewhat of a riff on body horror in the vein of Saw, whilst ‘Hole’ is more of a look on the dark underside of Suburban life à la Blue Velvet. They both follow the typical horror-themed anthology show format, albeit expedited to reveal the twist even sooner, and even weirder than that of other anthology series. The setup for ‘Toes’ alone could serve as the twist in a normal anthology show.
The move to a show not strictly focusing on comedy is an odd move for Tim and Eric, but it works tremendously well. Their influences don’t overtake their signature style here, and its clear that they’ve had aspirations to make something this structured and surreal for quite some time. The maturation of their work doesn’t mean the absurdities are dulled, infact they’re even sharper than before. It’s probably their finest work to date, as well as their most accessible. Expectations are defied, leaving an impression that’s bound to linger long after the credits.