Either I’ve lost my marbles or “Big Time in Hollywood, FL” is a work of near-genius.
Disguised as precisely the sort of sketchy Comedy Central fare that viewers might be tempted to skip, “Big Time in Hollywood, FL” (premiering Wednesday) instead turns into a wonderfully absurd, 10-episode serialized mini-epic about two self-absorbed brothers in suburban Florida whose filmmaking ambitions take a sudden turn into a dark, hilariously violent misadventure.
What works here is the unflinching, hypermanic commitment from everyone involved, starting with creators Alex Anfanger and Dan Schimpf and executive producer Ben Stiller and extending to each and every member of a cast that’s headed by Anfanger and co-stars Lenny Jacobson, Jon Bass and Cuba Gooding Jr. Together they take a story about delusionary greatness and wind up with a show that is great in a delusional way.
It’s also not as complicated as that. Anfanger and Jacobson play brothers Jack and Ben Dolfe, who, with their dense but loyal neighbor, Del (Bass), have been busily making cop/action films at the Dolfe family house and posting them online, to little or no fanfare. As imagined by the Dolfe brothers, these films are on par with Martin Scorsese and Michael Bay; in reality, they’re just more cheap trash on YouTube.
Jack and Ben’s too-tolerant parents, Diana and Alan (Kathy Baker and Stephen Tobolowsky), at last work up the courage to insist that their sons, nearing 30, move out of the house and get their own place. Outraged, the brothers instead hatch a scheme to swindle $20,000 from their parents, enlisting a recovering addict and aspiring actor (Stiller) to portray a drug lord who kidnaps Del for a ransom. When Diana calls the Drug Enforcement Administration, as any mom might, their plans go seriously south.
It wouldn’t be the first time a skit on Comedy Central ended in a hail of gunfire and other satirical bloodiness; at that point, most comedy series would reboot and just pick up next week with some other riff. “Big Time in Hollywood, FL,” however, is a fully imagined serialized story with a surprising emphasis on realism, as the Dolfe brothers fall deeper and deeper (and often obliviously) into trouble.
At one point, Ben complains that, in the course of all this, while Jack fixates on funding their next film project, they’ve lied to their parents and the police, stolen money, gotten people killed, faked addiction, endured rehab, tampered with a crime scene and become involved with a guy who secretly films people using toilets.
“Then I guess you’re just not cut out for the biz!” Jack screams at his brother.
Gooding, meanwhile, seems like he’s having the most fun he’s had in years, playing a cocaine-addicted version of “Cuba Gooding Jr.” (the same way Matt LeBlanc plays “Matt LeBlanc” in Showtime’s “Episodes”), a celebrity who is in deep trouble with a cartel and winds up entangled with the Dolfe brothers.
Buried in all this, surprisingly enough, is a quaint rumination on the angst of all millennials, who are hounded by their parents to get off their duffs and make something of themselves in a world that fails to recognize their brilliance. The Dolfe brothers are contemptible egomaniacs, yet you wind up rooting for them to come out ahead.
Episode by episode, “Big Time in Hollywood, FL” begins to resemble the kind of movie-within-a-movie that the Dolfes always fantasized they could make — an “Argo” colliding headlong into “Scarface.” Gooding enlists the brothers to write and direct a cop-buddy film co-starring a chimpanzee called “Monkey Largo,” which, unknown to Jack and Ben, is just a front for a drug operation. The brutality and violence fester to an almost cataclysmic end, but it comes with a knowing, Tarantino-like wink that’s a scream to watch.
(30 minutes) premieres Wednesday at 10:30 p.m. on Comedy Central.