Tv Review: Between Two Ferns

between two ferns series review index 2A show that makes me question my ethics…while in the middle of laughter.

I don’t advocate violence or intentionally antagonising someone. So that means when I see protesters looting, that saddens me. So maybe you might understand where I’m coming from when I tell you that I’m conflicted on how to share my views about the show. The closest one I can compare it to: wrestling in sumo suits. There’s no point but somehow it’s hilarious (as long as there are safety measures).

What is ‘Between Two Ferns’? On the surface it comes across as a low-budget talk show. How about on a deeper level? Er…..Well…..How about we just talk about how it’s a unique kind of dark humour? Since most of my viewings sit at the ‘M’ rating level, it’s no surprise that my tolerance of this kind of humour also sits right at the beginnings of Olaf realising he’s been skewered by an icicle in ‘Frozen’ (‘PG’ but could qualify as ‘G’) to the beginnings of ‘MA’ (closer to ‘M’ rather than ‘R’) like the scene in ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ when Mildred denies that she’s been to the dentist.

At first, I was reluctant to embrace this iteration of Zach Galifianakis as I was looking at the show as Zach intentionally wanting to annoy a guest. Thanks to an episode of ‘Off Camera’ (hosted by Sam Jones), I understood that it’s Zach pitching his sense of humour to his guest and if they end up showing up it’s a sign that they have been briefed and are okay with it. It could probably have come across similarly to Justine Sacco’s South Park style tweet. Yet somehow it doesn’t, which is why I was able to watch more than two episodes (and even gave the Netflix commissioned film a chance).

There’s also the fact that Zach had Barack Obama to help promote the Affordable Care Act and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 US Presidential bid spoke volumes about what was happening behind the scenes. The latter unfortunately didn’t work as well as I noticed the key to an entertaining exchange is the interviewee be just taking it honestly (like Bradley Cooper did — until he finds out the content of the speech Zach wrote for him) and slinging a bit back. Unless, the 44th United States’ President just has a soft spot for both Zach and ‘insult humour’? Another approach that works would be one that President Obama took: looking for openings and giving cheeky comebacks. It is more ‘cheeky’ that ‘barb-like’ (an example was Jennifer Lawrence delivering hers very seriously – and if we did not know that there was a big cheeky smile behind that pissed off expression… the whole exchange would also have fallen flat… or stirred up anger towards the interviewer).

Another way the format works if the interviewee just goes with it. When Naomi Watts is asked if she is shrunk down, she just rolls with it and tells him that she has to take time off. It’s not one of the best moments (just because Zach really doesn’t have anything to bounce off as the goal is to get the guest offended — or at least ‘fake offended’), yet not one of the worst either.

Comedic Moments:

  • Clinton’s designation (‘Had Pneumonia’)

  • Bradley Cooper promotes a cookbook

  • The fern brawl with Bradley Cooper (and an assist from Jessica Chastain)

  • Jennifer Lawrence is led away as she was flinging too much insults towards Zach

  • ‘Les Miserables’ is replaced as ‘French Movie’

I actually appreciate when the guest attempts to improvise. Anne Hathaway got to a good start going into it as her inebriated self (and pouts when told to go to her seat). There’s also Christoph Waltz who went into to the interview seemingly as someone who’s going to answer genuinely (or at least treat Zach’s questions as genuine), then starting to mimic Zach. The result was them just talking over each other.

As a human not a big fan of puns (I’m not immensely angry about it — and wouldn’t get annoyed if a good friend suddenly decided that tomorrow was a ‘day of puns’), I accept that there are times that exceptions appear: like Simon Gilmore’s performance at Ikea for Dana Lubcke. This is also the same for this particular strain of humour. Another way to class it is ‘roast humour’, and one of the more active examples are Redditors who are willingly looking to get ‘roasted’. I unfortunately couldn’t understand (as an extremely sensitive person — if I don’t have my walls up) why some people would willingly want to go through such an ordeal. Though after considering possible benefits, I have two: making it easier to stand up to someone who exhibits bullying behaviour or to get ready to go public (say you’re about to do a TEDx talk and wanted to make sure that you can easily deflect the comments that don’t matter, so you can focus on the the ones that do).

The downside is that some of the episodes don’t have captions. My hope is as the years go by, there would be more added by ‘caption ninjas’ (those who contribute captions on YouTube), or maybe by either Netflix or Funny Or Die. Consolation? There’s a virtual background available for your video conferencing needs. While it is a risk that may turn of a potential client (if you’re working on scoring her new film), it does add to your authenticity plus it allows you to show how respectful you can be if there is a disagreement (like the director not liking this particular humour strain).

So, how to tackle my recommendation (or not)? I think Emily Swanson puts in a good idea (those over 65 aren’t likely going to appreciate the humour) whether you should check it out or not. It’ll be a good exercise if you are of that age, and are interested in checking out what sort of videos people are hooked on with their phone while in public. If you are a parent and wondering if you should consider getting the kids to watch it? I’m not sure. I can tell you, though, that watching an episode (President Obama’s one would be a good start) could possibly result in deeper discussions. At the least, you might be able to learn about where the humour of your 12-year-old leans compared to the 15-year-old.

Leigh Lim. / /

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