Back in 2005 Andy Samberg wasn’t the well known star of many a superb comedy, but he was part of The Lonely Island, the group behind the fantastic film Popstar: Never Stop Stopping which was easily one of the funniest films released in 2016, and their previous movie Hot Rod is an absolute gem as well. So I had high hopes for this pilot which was made in 2005 for Fox and produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller of The Lego Movie fame, and they were mostly matched, though there is a slight twist in the tale as a second pilot was created for MTV using existing footage and some new sketches and it’s not as good, despite the group preferring it.
The first pilot is introduced by Jack Black as George Washington in a highly entertaining skit where he claims that The Lonely Island is “the funniest thing since sliced bread, which I invented” and that “The three dudes in the show you’re about to watch are committed to entertainment just like I was committed to freeing the slaves, and making pipes and stuff.” It’s a strong beginning which leads to an equally strong opening song, a fun effort which introduces Andy, Akiva, Jorma, it may be simplistic but it’s a catchy number, before it becomes all metal with Jorma ranting away and shocking the other two.
Akin to Mr Show most of the sketches are linked by a brief studio based segment, the first of which begins with shots of the audience clapping a lot, and when the trio come out they announce that “This show is for Fox which means it has to be hot and sexy” and so they plan to bring on sexy dancers, and the sexiest dancers they know are their mothers. All three take the stage except it’s clear that Andy’s mother is clearly too young to be the real thing, and the sexy dancing and flirtation are disturbing in such a context. The other two call him out on it and so brings he’s actual mother out with the joke being that she dances just as sexily as the previous woman did. It might not be the most intellectual idea ever but it’s bright and breezy and sets the tone for the majority of the episode.
The only recurring sketch comes next, Castaways, which sees the gang on an island in the middle of nowhere. It’s a slightly mixed affair with each sketch being mostly short and often revolving around their beards, with lots of gags about the fact that Jorma’s is terrible and like that of a seventeen year old while the others are as big and bushy as Santa Claus’s. It’s amiable material and in no way bad, it just doesn’t always hit home as in the case of one very quick bit where they’re just standing around posing as if they were models which feels a little aimless.
Much, much better is a parody of the eighties sci-fi flick Enemy Mine starring Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett Jr., but you won’t have to have seen that fairly obscure movie to enjoy it. The central concept to both is that a human and an alien are stuck on a planet and unable to escape, but here the alien, Glark, wants to seduce the human, casually commenting that he has both male and female genitalia and that’s “Just something to think about”. A year passes and nothing has happened, and then another year, with an attempt at a game of Truth or Dare with Glark asking “If you had to hook up with someone on this moon who would it be and why?” not working either. Indeed it looks like it’s never going to happen until the human fixes his ship, and comments about how he returned to Earth but before he did he finally screwed Glark. And it was great. The whole thing’s pretty cute and while mostly not laugh out loud material it works well, and the final line is a fantastic one.
There’s a couple of short sketches after this, one with the gang playing Animal, Mineral, Vegetable with the answer always being Unicorn, a shot of Akiva and Andy doing an “Exploding high five” and then Akiva throwing a sketch (in the form of a rectangular bit of video) in to the audience causing panic, all of which made me smile and like the show even more. The one and only part I didn’t get on with was up next, a song called Just2Guys all about two boring men and the naff party they’re having, it’s not bad and fairly dry, low key and sardonic, but it went on for too long and the joke was stretched thin by the end.
After a bit in the studio where Andy comments on Jorma and Akiva having strange names and him wanting to change his, only for various audience members to suggest “Assface” (though one guy in his pants offers up “Outfit stealer”) a brief bit of animation is the subsequent skit, where Frazzles the Awesometown squirrel warns the audience that parts of the next sketch are in 3D, and he’ll tell us when to put on our glasses. Said sketch is a parody of The OC entitled The BU which features Scrubs’ star Sarah Chalke and makes fun of soap opera cliches, but the laughs come thick and fast when Frazzles pops up to tell us to put on 3D glasses and the actors suddenly shove cups and limbs at the camera, and then become increasingly pissed off with Frazzles as he insults them and demands the male actor wears a dress.
And that’s pretty much it bar some footage of the trio playing with a puppy over the end credits, overall I found it to be extremely likeable stuff, one or two of the Castaways sketches could have been cut and a shorter version of Just2Guys would have been effective, but in general it’s a fun show with a lot of laugh out loud moments, so why Fox didn’t pick it up is bizarre. The show wasn’t completely dead in the water however, as they made a shorter version for MTV which runs for just under 15 minutes and contains a fair few new sketches, with The Lonely Island stating that they felt it captured their brand of humour better.
It starts with the same Jack Black intro and credits but this time there’s no studio segments and it’s all filmed sketches. The first new one sees Andy Samberg flirting with a crisp (or chip, if you’re American) which is fairly amusing, and then there’s a parody of MTV type shows with “Ignition Tv”, where Chris Hoffman (Jorma) is counting down the top 10 videos and plays 50 Cent’s In The Club, except the song is accompanied by a porn video (which contains nudity) and afterwards he plays a track by T.A.T.U. with the same porn once again shown. It’s silly but kind of pointless, and for me raised a brief smirk but nothing more than that. A Castaways sketch from the previous pilot followed, and then there’s two new skits, one where Andy informs us that he has to take a coat to the dry cleaners along with a series of stills and footage of him doing it, and one which is “Awesometown News Takin’ It To The Streets” and sees Jorma ask if someone will ask him questions, like his favourite colour, “Could you take off your shirt for me?” and “How close is too close?”. Both sketches are okay, and the latter made me chuckle a couple of times, but for my money they’re not as good as those they replaced.
After this there was more footage from the original pilot, with the exploding high five, the Just2Guys song and a couple more Castaways skits, before there’s a new segment set in 1819 where they’re exploring Africa and looking for the nation of Chad, with the joke being “What if Chad were a dude”. And that’s all annoyingly, as it’s weak and then some and feels like half of an idea which was never really developed in to anything funny. The same applies with a bit where a guy crawls all over Andy in different locations, and one where Jorma grabs someone’s newspaper and annoys him, and a part where a guy called Che is at the Awesometown production office and dances around the group, mostly thrusting his groin about whilst they work and do dull stuff isn’t much better either. After one of the better Castaways sketches there’s a brief song with Jorma singing a song about “my pants” – except he’s not wearing any and his penis is pixelated – and then it ends with a scene where Jorma is feeling down in the dumps and so Andy and Akiva do a dance for him which makes him feel better. If any of these sound hilarious to you then, well, you’re just wrong to think such a thing, they made me briefly smile but that was all.
Unsurprisingly the network passed on it, as did Comedy Central when offered the show, and that was that, given the quality of the second pilot I’m not surprised in the slightest and I’m still perplexed that the trio thought it was better than the first. It is enormously disheartening that Fox didn’t pick up that pilot though, it had a lot of great gags and funny sketches, was far dafter and all the better for it, and considering how few decent sketch shows have been aired over the years it’s frustrating that The Lonely Island weren’t given a shot. Still, they’re around to this day and creating material which is even better, so I shan’t complain just this once.