#PodGoals is an in-depth examination of outstanding podcasts from the world of geek and pop-culture entertainment. I listen so you don’t have to . . . then I tell you how amazing they are and that you should listen anyway.
Grown Ups 2 (2013), Adam Sandler’s teetering monument to mediocrity and fart jokes, has been called many things by critics. “Lazy” and “pointless” are what they say when they’re trying to be magnanimous. “Desperate,” “slothful,” “indulgent,” “sexist,” and “abrasive” come into play when the gloves are off. My favorite comment on the movie comes from Matt Patches of Time Out: “In the first five minutes, a deer walks into the star’s bedroom and urinates on his face. It’s all downhill from there.”
It’s safe to say that everyone agrees on Grown Ups 2 being a world-class cinematic turd, ranking just below Cthulhu in terms of psychological balefulness. So why would two men, who are in presumed possession of their full faculties, agree to watch the film 52 times over the course of a year and record their reactions after every viewing—reactions that amount mainly to sub-human mental deterioration and abject despair?
Tim Batt and Guy Montgomery, both 20-something Kiwi comedians, first met in 2013 while working on U Late, an after-hours comedy show on the now-defunct New Zealand public-access channel TVNZ. One of their regular bits consisted of Montgomery interviewing Batt as he improvised reviews of the best and worst toilets he’d used that week. That example encapsulates their style, though the pair doesn’t focus chiefly on the scatological. Their free-flowing bits are an elevation of the mundane and evince an alchemical desire to manifest comedy from base elements . . . and, OK, maybe make a few poop jokes along the way.
The two became fast friends and developed a concept for a podcast entitled The Worst Idea of All Time. The pitch: pick a bad film, watch it once a week, every week (no exceptions), for a year and record their reactions immediately afterward, capturing the fresh, lemon-faced indignity of having to stomach cinematic garbage. Choosing the film was their initial challenge; they first floated Con Air but decided it was too fun in its trashiness. The Room, though awful, was nixed for being too naively charming in its ineptitude. The pair eventually landed on Grown Ups, the 2010 Adam Sandler “comedy” starring the comedian and his friends, but decided instead to go with its sequel as an extra twist of the knife. “What could be worse,” they posited, “than a sequel to a film that should have never existed in the first place?” (Neither had seen Grown Ups before they began watching Grown Ups 2.) And off they went.
The resulting 52 episodes and subsequent 30-plus hours of the podcast document a descent into madness and human misery to rival the tragedies of any nation or age. All right, “madness” might be overstating it, but it could at least be described as “severe mental itchiness.” The pair start their viewings with high spirits, but as early as Week 7 (with more than 75 percent of the way left to go) they have to institute a “no phones” rule, as they’ve both been seeking solace in their electronic devices and neglecting the film.
Tim is especially fastidious about this in early shows; he’s determined that they will watch every minute consecutively and record immediately after viewing, preserving the full experience. (He initially had hopes that they would reach the Guinness Book of World Records for their feat, but later complications and the absence of a Guinness representative to document their achievement would thwart that dream.) Guy, though game, is somewhat more lax—Tim more than once chides him on air for having fallen asleep during the film’s run time. But who could blame him for trying to escape into sleep or for succumbing to the inanity of their task? You’re watching the same film, over and over, week in, week out, its dialogue, actions and rhythms becoming as familiar as your own reflection. And the film is Grown Ups 2, which the New York Times described as “raunch-lite devoid of emotional resonance.”
By Week 10, in the guise of play-testing the rules for their Grown Ups 2 drinking game, they let alcohol into the equation, and that’s where the standards really begin to crumble. By Week 29, hash gets involved, and the pair drift further into loopy, plaintive ruminations on what exactly the hell it is they’ve gotten themselves into. It’s easy to sympathize with their need for chemical distractions; back in the late teens of episode numbers, while straining to milk comical observations from such an awful film, they struck upon the sobering revelation that there was so much farther to go. The end is a mathematical reality but is nowhere in sight. Tim points out that even after they surmount Week 26 (the halfway point), their destination will seem further away than ever and that even when they reach their goal, he won’t be sure of what they’ve accomplished exactly. They’re trapped in a (more) existential production of Waiting for Godot. Their goal is an apple, continuously blown out of the grasp of their hungry hands by cruel winds. And the apple is rotten.
Full confession: I haven’t seen the film. I considered watching it for the podcast, much in the way Ewan McGregor “considered” shooting heroin to prepare for his role in Trainspotting (ill advised). But Time and Guy, smartly divining that their listeners might attempt the same, are careful to repeat a warning every week on air: “Do not watch this film.” I’ve complied with their wishes, and the result for me is a surreal experience, like watching someone die from poison gas through the window of an airtight room. They seem really upset about something, they’re clutching at their throat, but the source of their distress remains unclear. Without having seen the unfunny bits they describe, the flat characters and set-ups, the kindergarten-level humor, I developed the impression that the entire thing was some huge, immaculately crafted bit of experimental theater—there is no movie. These young men are attempting something of Borgesian ambition, assembling a fart-filled Uqbar out of dust and shadows that will mystify, repel, and elate observers for years to come. But sadly, IMDB and Matt Patches assure me that Grown Ups 2 is indeed real. Adam Sandler is simply an Omega-level hack, and these two guys are just thrashing in the dirt like dying snakes. Hilarious dying snakes, though.
While enacting their shadow play of existential human schadenfreude, Tim and Guy use their Olympic-level improvisational talents to execute a master class of finding humor in their circumstances. Accompanying the drinking game are segments like:
- “Paddy Schwartz Party Time!”: the boys single out a favored screen moment of glorified extra Patrick Schwarzenegger (son of the Governator and Maria Shriver), all while angling weekly for a sponsorship deal with Blaze Pizza (in which they’re convinced Patrick has an ownership share) and speculating on his relationship status with Miley Cyrus (they have since split).
- “The Steve Buscemi Mystery Tour”: Tim and Guy theorize, without having seen it, what type of accident could have led to the disfiguring injuries Steve Buscemi’s character sustained during Grown Ups 1. They posit scenarios that include vehicle crashes, wild animal attacks, and attempted self-murder/suicide through time travel to explain his misfortune.
- “The Shining Light”: The hosts’ one desperate shot at trying to find something, anything, to enjoy about their latest watch of the film. As you’d expect, the low-hanging fruit gets picked early in the early episodes, the technical aspects get stripped for parts near the middle, and near the end of the podcast’s run “The Shining Light” becomes one of the weirdest, most reliably hilarious segments, in which two beaten men desperately try to compliment their attacker.
Apart from the segments and commentary, much of the amusement of the show comes from listening to two active young men trying to wedge a viewing of a godawful movie into their weekly routine. 9:00 a.m. on Monday morning is what they first commit to, but that quickly devolves into bleary, late-night catch-ups, often recorded sotto voce as to not wake sleeping flatmates. At one point, Guy goes on a pre-planned, month-long holiday to Europe but is continually frustrated in his Skype-recorded sessions with Tim that he has to watch Adam Sandler and company frolic malevolently on an 11-inch screen while the treasures of the Continent lie just outside his hotel room window.
They record a commentary track to be watched along with the film, but still insist that this film must not be watched. They invite guests on the show, fellow comedians and film buffs, who provide additional humor as well as their pitying disbelief that Guy and Tim are inflicting this torture on themselves. Through it all, the pair remain resolute (if unhappy) in the face of what they’ve signed up for. It’s become part of their lives, something they’re saddled with that they can’t avoid and can only dread. Like Maika Monroe in It Follows, they must shrink from it, powerless, weaponless, running from a beast that lurches slowly towards them every seven days. (That’s an example of great film that they probably missed while locked in a monster movie of their own making.)
The belly of the beast lies in the 30s, but as the boys crest the 40th show, things begin to look up. The show evolves beyond mere self-harm for sport. The outlook is clearly brighter; the light, though faint, is at the end of the tunnel. The plan is to have their final, 52nd watch before a live audience in Los Angeles. The Indiegogo campaign they create to bankroll their trip to America reaches nearly 200 percent backing. The podcast commentary becomes more hopeful, less cynical. The pair arrive early in L.A. and record one episode of the podcast entirely in a local Kmart. (The film is rife with conspicuous Kmart product placement, which receives no end of speculation from the hosts about what dark pacts have been made to bring this cinematic monster to fruition.) They rent a camper van and stay overnight in Joshua Tree, delivering an ebullient show hardly concerned with the sad, small film they’ve watched on a portable DVD player in the darkness of the desert. They eat Blaze pizza. They get Patrick Schwarzenegger’s face tattooed on their butts.
And then, the hour arrives. Guy and Tim head to Cinefamily in L.A. to watch the film one last time and record a podcast in front of a live, sold-out audience. Two things strike me about their 52nd and last commentary on the film. Firstly, Guy and Tim, who have been on TV and radio in their native New Zealand but are unaccustomed to a world stage (certainly not one in L.A.), handle their SoCal crowd with astonishing ease. It shouldn’t really be a surprise for someone who has listened to more than 30 hours of these two, spinning entertainment out of deer piss, but I couldn’t help but be impressed at their onstage rapport, the way they bounce off each other, creating new bits and still finding comedy in a movie that has none, even in front of a cosmopolitan crowd 2000 miles away from home.
The second thing that struck me was their exhaustion. Call it jet lag, call it a semi-sleepless night with the coyotes at Joshua Tree, or blame the Vodka Red Bulls that undoubtedly flowed once they’d reached the City of Angels, but I imagined I heard a weariness in their voices as they cracked up the crowds at Cinefamily. They’d accomplished their goal, they had slain the beast, but in the end they were reduced somehow—mortal, like butter scraped across too much bread (to borrow a phrase from one of their countryman’s films). They’re present, but there’s a palpable sense that this is almost over, despite the fact that they’ve arrived in the Mecca of televised comedy, their show has hit over 650,000 downloads on iTunes, and they’re looking at a packed crowd that wants to hear them talk at length about Adam Sandler’s worst movie . . . in a few short hours, they’d finally be free. Only two things remained before the trip home: Episodes 53 and 54.
Episode 53 was a Q&A for the Cinefamily audience recorded just before their 52nd watch, in which Tim and Guy answered questions like “Where’s Tanya?” (an extra from the film who was teased by the pair for an on-air interview that never actually materialized), “Where’s Tim’s knife?” (don’t ask), and other minutiae about hobbits and Peter Jackson. It’s a fun show, though the duo’s obvious exhaustion makes it a little scattered. Episode 54, taped at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in L.A. before a full audience, is where Guy and Tim would finally see the original author of all their pain: Grown Ups 1. Any “hero’s journey” metaphors are totally screwed at this point, but let’s say this is Sean Connery coming in at the end of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves . . . or, more accurately, Patrick Stewart showing up at the end of Robin Hood: Men in Tights. The result is unsurprisingly sedate and a bit of a snoozer. Of course Grown Ups 1 is awful; what did they expect? They’ve won. The dragon is dead. Only so much fun can be had with tea-bagging its corpse.
Home now in their figurative (and, I suppose, literal) Shire, Guy and Tim are still at work. Guy co-hosts a Kiwi TV adaptation of the YouTube show FailArmy (which has a hilarious, jeremiad story of its own that is an article to itself), and Tim continues to work in television and on radio. If our slowly emergent Lord of the Rings metaphor were to continue, this would be the part where they’d live happily ever after and one of them would sail to the Undying Lands while the other . . . married his sweetheart or became mayor of the Shire or something. (The films are a little blurry on that part.) But, like the continually ending Return of The King, the story not quite over yet. A second season of The Worst Idea of All Time is currently in progressin which Tim and Guy, having learned nothing, tilting at new windmills and jesting at their scars (and tats), have committed to watching the film Sex and the City 2 once a week, every week, over the course of the next year. Their frenzied screams can be heard weekly, through iTunes and Stitcher or on their website, WorstIdeaofAllTime.com.
My recommendation: a must-listen, if not for improvisational comedy to rival Comedy Bang Bang, then at least to know exactly when to pull the trigger when someone says “Kill me . . . killlll meeeeeeee.”
Got a suggestion for a podcast you think is worthy of #PodGoals? Don’t keep it to yourself; let me know in the comments below.