When not creating their bold, bawdy, and brilliant Comedy Central sitcom Broad City, Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs, and breakout star Ilana Glazer are busy wondering about whether or not they'd kidnap Michael Jackson.
After first taking shape as a barely two-minute College Humor sketch in 2012, the trio’s latest creative endeavor, the ambitious, provocative, and stupid-funny Time Traveling Bong, is now a three-part Comedy Central miniseries that made its world premiere as part of Tribeca 2016's first-ever Tune In program. The group jokingly described it as "Comedy Central’s O.J.," referring to FX's recent American Crime Story saga.
Filmed over the course of just 12 days and set in eight different time periods, the series centers around New Jersey cousins/roommates Jeff (Downs, who plays Trey on Broad City) and Sharee (Glazer), two millennial layabouts who come across a magical bong that allows them to travel through space and time. Over the course of the series, the two escape a dinosaur, participate in orgies with both cave people and Ancient Greeks, and play parents to a young Michael Jackson.
Which brings us back to that kidnapping. In what’s sure to be the series' most talked-about episode, Jeff and Sharee land in Gary, Indiana, circa 1963, where they come across the notorious Joe Jackson tormenting an adolescent Michael on the street; they decide to offset the years of abuse, trauma, and infamous that the pop icon would face by kidnapping the boy and raising him as one of their own. During a post-screening conversation with the series' creators and Slate’s TV critic Willa Paskin, Glazer admitted that the Jackson plot was actually an idea from creative partner Abbi Jacobson, who raised the idea while the two were staying (and blazing) with Aniello and Downs in Los Angeles during Broad City pitches in 2012.
The breakout series that serves as their day job was, of course, on everyone's mind, particularly when it comes to the show’s more highbrow critical acclaim. Glazer was the first to insist that, while she appreciates the close reads and deep dives, Broad City is hardly created with the intense intellectuality that's frequently ascribed to it by critics looking for "Oedipal" and "biblical" connotations, as Glazer put it. But that hardly means the show is being produced with little care or concern. As Glazer later expressed, "We are really smart at this one thing: comedy."
In that vein, Time Traveling Bong is a riotous comedic accumulation of appropriately baked ideas that is, according to Glazer, "so fucking stupid." But it’s also a work that can draw big laughs while also tactfully approaching touchy subjects. In one of the series' riskiest moments, Jeff and Sharee land on a Southern plantation and play "white savior" to three slaves, transporting them to Michael Jackson's '60s-era Indiana, only to find their good intentions backfire in a truly unsettling way. The audience at the SVA Theatre responded with nervous laughs, but the creators insist that they recognize the larger implications and are more interested in conscientiously calling out the dubious behavior of what Glazer calls "useless white people" than simply making light of serious issues or groups of people.
So, are the collaborators interested in taking this Bong into the future? Maybe. Each threw out some additional settings and historical events and figures that they’d be interested in encountering, among them the Holocaust, Beethoven, and the Great Chicago Fire. But perhaps the most brilliant idea was the one that almost made it into the series: a Back to the Future homage centered around Bill and Hillary Clinton. In the scrapped story, our stoner heroes find themselves forced to bring together the future First Couple after smoking up with Bill causes him to miss his first date with the woman who this time, next year, might very well be our sitting President.
Can a Time Traveling sequel be ready by then? It'll likely take a lot of work and likely a lot of weed, which is fine by Glazer. "Weed is magical," she exclaimed at one point during the panel. "It's the essence of something, but in a plant… I just love weed."
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