TOM GOES TO THE MAYOR: THE COMPLETE SERIES
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"Bear Traps," "WW Laserz," "Pioneer Island," "Toodle Day," "Rats Off to Ya!," "Porcelain Birds," "Vehicular Manslaughter," "Boy Meets Mayor," "Calcucorn," "Gibbons," "Pipe Camp," "Re-Birth," "Vice Mayor," "My Big Cups," "Bass Fest," "Jeffy the Sea Serpent," "White Collarless," "Wrestling," "Saxman," "Spray a Carpet or Rug," "Surprise Party," "CNE," "Friendship Alliance," "Zoo Trouble," "The Layover," "Couples Therapy," "Glass Eyes," "Undercover," "Puddins," "Joy's Ex"
ANYTHING BUT LOVE: VOLUME ONE
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"Fear of Flying," "Deadline," "Burning the Toad (The Jack Story)," "Love and Death," "Dorothy Dearest," "This is Not a Date," "Ch-Ch-Changes," "Those Lips, Those Thais," "It's My Party and I'll Schvitz If I Want To," "Scared Straight," "Mr. Mom," "Just the Facts, Ma'am," "Bang, You're Dead," "Truth or Consequences," "It's Better to Have Loved and Flossed," "Hearts and Bones," "Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," "Breast of Friends," "Hotel of the Damned," "All About Allison," "Proof It All Night," "Three Men on a Match," "Partying is Such Sweet Sorrow," "The Ice Woman Cometh," "Hooray for Hollywood," "Robin Q. Public," "The Days of Whine and Haroses," "Thirty... Something"
by Ian Pugh Equal parts hilarious and repellent, "Tom Goes to the Mayor" boasts an intentionally ugly aesthetic typified by characters who consist of static, colour-drained photographs of their performers sent through Photoshop's "photocopy" function, their "animation" being the occasional change in pictures to depict a new facial expression. Frequently interrupting are live-action interstitials, usually mock commercials for restaurants or gift shops from a local cable network full of blurry star-wipes and awkwardly-superimposed titles. The show's devotion to these stylistic grotesqueries is not burdened by complex plots, its basic formula boiling down to the title itself: naïve doormat Tom Peters (co-creator Tim Heidecker) comes up with an idea to improve the tiny community of Jefferton only to be blamed for the disasters that occur when he submits his plans to the indifferent, self-absorbed mayor (co-creator Eric Wareheim). Of course, Tom's ideas are routinely terrible on their own (as evidenced by the moronic T-shirt slogans (1.5, "Rats Off to Ya!") and non-functioning toy calculators (1.9, "Calcucorn")), a fact which completes a trinity of exploration into an arena right alongside Saturday morning cartoons (recalling cheapo anti-animation fare like "Clutch Cargo" and "The Marvel Superheroes") and public-access television, where quality control is impertinent. Between Jefferton's overload of obnoxious tchotchkes and its smorgasbord of disgusting food platters, "Tom Goes to the Mayor" is uniformly disturbing and sometimes nauseating. In other words, it succeeds spectacularly.
It would be unfair to say that "Tom Goes to the Mayor" completely engulfs itself in fabricated awfulness, as its sharp writing offers one of the finest juggling acts of pitch-black comedy and subtle lunacy since "Mr. Show". (Hence the presence of executive producer Bob Odenkirk.) But leaving aside its delightful silliness about hobo zoos and restaurants that offer dipping sauces and nothing else, there's a deeper well of thought in how the series associates its low-budget inspirations with more "advanced" forms of entertainment. Case in point would be its ability to lure some fairly big names (Jack Black, John C. Reilly, Jeff Goldblum) to appear for a minute or two at best, and even then in a mostly non-flattering form. The inherent artificiality of it all brings to mind the action sequences of the Spider-Man franchise or the Star Wars prequels, which feature their own CGI celebrity mannequins caught between fantasy and reality, Uncanny Valley-style. In his review of Jerry Lewis's The Bellboy, Eric Henderson talks of "celebrity-Xerox paranoia," how that film duplicates and distributes familiar faces for frighteningly easy consumption; "Tom Goes to the Mayor" seems to follow that idea more literally: as stars lend their images and voices to an actual Xeroxing, the show's process becomes a contemplation of an entertainment landscape populated by fake, digital Shemps. In one episode, "White Collarless" (2.4), the idea is taken to an extreme, with Tom becoming an underground miner alongside several hundred clones of Louie Anderson.
Given that the animation techniques are at once innovative and soulless, the live-action segments are almost a refuge from such complicated ideas. As unwatchably bad as they can be, Heidecker and Wareheim still find something charming about amateur home-video productions, theorizing that down-home showcases of talent (or lack thereof) may be preferable to computer pyrotechnics--the slightly inhuman besting the totally inhuman. But it might all just be different shades of crap, and "Tom Goes to the Mayor"'s head-first dive into that crap (without sacrificing its own intelligence) suggests an acknowledgment that, in terms of art, we must having an understanding of "bad" before we can truly understand "good." It's a point perhaps best illustrated by the duo's "Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!", a follow-up series that continues down the public-access path and carries a title that speaks volumes about pretending that something is a lot better than it really is.
The near-incitement of nausea that acts as "Tom Goes to the Mayor"'s bread and butter washes over me as I approach "Anything But Love", one of several cutesy, interchangeable sitcoms from the late-'80s. Marty Gold (Richard Lewis) and Hannah Miller (Jamie Lee Curtis) do the sexual-tension shuffle as new friends working for the same Chicago news magazine, prattling back and forth in a jokey, simpering dialogue that only exemplifies that no one should ever want to read anything these morons write. Perhaps as a desire to move into the go-go Nineties, the show undergoes a dramatic tonal shift after the first six episodes: grumpy boss Louis Giambalvo is replaced by chic-obsessed Ann Magnuson, while Curtis is gifted with a wacky Betty Rubble companion (Holly Fulger).
Talk about different shades of crap--an attempt to make things hipper for the ever-elusive "now" crowd does nothing to improve the situation. The problem is, of course, that "Anything But Love" still has complete and utter faith in the brilliance of its general premise and lead actors. That is to say, in Lewis endlessly kvetching about his mother and Curtis alternating between smirking ambivalence and high-pitched histrionics. Likely attributable to the fact that behind the scenes Lewis served as a "creative consultant," the series never stops to consider that his sub-Woody Allenisms might be worn out: for as often as it mocks Lewis for impulsively bringing his hands to his temples, "Anything But Love" certainly surrounds him with enough stooges to laugh at his tired material with a Man of the Year level of aggression. The first, exceedingly long DVD volume of the series ends with Hannah finally confessing her inexplicable love for Marty, obliging yet another rework to accommodate the complications of a full-blown relationship--but what could we possibly care?
"Tom Goes to the Mayor: The Complete Series" docks on DVD in an extravagant three-disc "Businessman's Edition" courtesy of Warner's [adult swim] branch. The full-frame image is sharp, if a little too bright, while the DD 2.0 stereo is awfully loud and abrasive, though it's hard to fault obnoxious A/V specs when they work so well for the show's intention. Audio commentary from Heidecker and Wareheim appends every single episode (30 in total), and they're occasionally joined by the somewhat haughty Odenkirk and various members of the production team. Although the creators themselves goof around (staging frequent ad-libbed contretemps), narrate the action, and marvel at their own insane scenarios a little too often, the very presence of fellow crew members is able to coax them into some fairly illuminating anecdotes about the show's process and celebrity cameos.
Sporting black turtlenecks, a fog machine, and far too much makeup, Wareheim and Heidecker introduce a pair of informative documentaries that begin the special features on Disc One. "That's Amazing! How Do They Make That Show?" (22 mins.) takes us through the process, from photography sessions to voiceover recordings to Photoshop and beyond (the planning of a "triple surprise" for Heidecker's birthday party is a real hoot); "Night of 1000 Stars: Celebrity Sessions" (12 mins.), meanwhile, is a pleasant montage of guest stars playing along with the silliness. "A Look Behind" (11 mins.) condenses the previous two selections into an episode of the series, which is to say that it jettisons most of the relevant information in favour of silly interviews and chintzy title cards. "The Original Toms" presents "Tom Goes to the Mayor" (4 mins.) and "Tom Goes to the Mayor Returns" (7 mins., with special guest David Cross), the original web cartoons that served as the show's prototype. These shorts are predictably rough--MS Paint nightmares constituting their backgrounds (and note that Heidecker plays a bearded Tom Bradley in the first 'toon)--but capture Tom's awkward business relationship with the Mayor pretty quickly.
Over on Disc Two, we begin with "Whoops?: Deleted Scenes", a series of fully-animated scenes (sans sound effects) cut from the final product to keep each episode from running over its allotted eleven-and-a-half minutes. "TinyTune Town: Music from the Show" collects all of the catchy musical numbers from "Tom Goes to the Mayor" (minus its opening and closing theme, "Jefferton Alive") under one convenient menu; it's notable in that several songs are preceded by explanations and examples of what the creators wanted prior to turning things over to composer Davin Wood. Furthermore, this is the lone extra where curse words go un-bleeped. "Here's the Scoop: Married News Outtakes" (10 mins.) is a flub-reel featuring live-action "married news anchors" Wayne and Jan Skylar (Wareheim and Heidecker) as they crack up during takes. It's fairly standard stuff, but the natural androgyny of the characters themselves adds a disturbing level of menace to it.
"The Bob Zone: A Tribute to Bob Odenkirk" extends a same-named segment from "A Look Behind", a montage of Odenkirk as he films and records dialogue for various cameo appearances ultimately funnier in context. Next, on Disc Three, there's "Boiling Point!: Behind the Scenes, Season Two" (24 mins.), a fitfully amusing mockumentary wherein Heidecker up and quits following a clash of egos with Wareheim, accepting a job as the assistant to the assistant of Bob Odenkirk while Louie Anderson and "Arrested Development"'s Michael Cera take his place as co-writer and actor, respectively, on "Tom Goes to the Mayor". It's kind of a modern reworking of Friz Freleng's classic Looney Tune You Ought to Be in Pictures" with Heidecker in the Porky Pig role. Rounding things out: a batch of predictably gross promos (one starring Cartoon Network's original late night star, Space Ghost; another with "Weird Al" Yankovic); and "An Artist's Touch: Artwork from the Show" (10 mins.), a silent montage of the animated figures and backdrops from the show's world.
"Anything But Love: Volume One" comes to the format from Fox in a three-disc spread containing the first twenty-eight episodes of the series. The full-frame image is routinely dark and blocky (from both the original six-episode block's beige palette to the rest of the show's blue) while the DD 2.0 stereo audio is acceptable despite dips in volume and occasional crackles. Curtis and Lewis lodge a commentary for the pilot episode, "Fear of Flying," wherein they marvel at the dated wardrobe, wax nostalgic at the sight of fellow cast members, and unironically praise the sappy synth theme music. Curtis, mesmerized by the pilot (mainly due to the fact that it bears so little resemblance to the rest of the series), shushes Lewis several minutes in, making this a rather quiet, useless yak-track--not such a bad thing, considering she effectively prevents him from launching into his tired shtick.
A second commentary from regular director Robert Berlinger supplements episode 2.13, "Hotel of the Damned." A real faux-teur, Berlinger tries to convince us that "Anything But Love" was groundbreaking in some way--all the while explaining his "technique" ("Their distance apart on the bed from each other was deliberate, 'cause as you'll see, the scene will have a progression"), informing us of the screamingly obvious ("Another ethnic joke," he says at one point as Lewis opens his mouth), and interrupting about five or six times to tell us where we can locate his walrus-like laugh in the studio audience reaction. In the accompanying retrospective featurette "Everything about 'Anything But Love'" (25 mins.), the producers join Curtis and a surprisingly gaunt Lewis for a discussion of the show's brief history. Rather uninformative, its only real revelation is that there was a third version of the concept that posited Marty and Hannah in a long-term love triangle with the oft-mentioned Jack (D.W. Moffett in the pilot, Robin Thomas as a guest star in the series proper). The piece was pretty obviously crafted for the "Anything But Love" fanatic, as the clips from the show are by and large culled from episodes not included in this package. Lastly, "Stories from the Set" (5 mins.) gathers the crew from the previous doc to attest to the hilarity of Richard Lewis, during which time my eyes rolled to the back of my head and stayed there. Originally published: May 16, 2007.