Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! has been celebrating its tenth anniversary this year with a live tour and a brand-new episode on Adult Swim, the first in seven years. Created by Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, Awesome Show was an epoch-making sketch comedy series that, with its in-your-face poop gags and impeccable awkwardness, met with both rabid enthusiasm and uncomprehending disgust. It got me through college and cemented the friendship I made there, it is the puckered North Star in my own comedic explorations, and its proximity to total nihilism has given me plenty to think about over the last 10 months.
The new episode of Awesome Show—streaming here, for the moment—mostly extends the series’ greatest hits. There’s an absolutely perfect commercial from the maker of the Poop Tube, an excellent music video in the style of “I Live With My Dad,” and an appropriately perverse successor to “Family Chant.” Among the other sketches are a mildly amusing B-plot about a conflict between Tim and Eric—designed, as all their B-plots are, to spoof the artificiality of sitcom arcs—and the revival of a Will Forte character that I never found very funny in the first place. The only thing remarkable about the episode is its fidelity: It would have fit in seamlessly with the show’s original run. It is neither sentimental nor mock-sentimental, just a simulacrum of the past.
That strikes me as an admirably vulnerable move. The fans have been left to decide for themselves if they ought to feel nostalgic—and if they’ve internalized the Tim and Eric ethos, they won’t. Heidecker and Wareheim are militantly anti-nostalgic in their work, about their work, about anything anybody misses. The day after Don Rickles died, after every other comedian on Earth had tweeted fondly about the time they got roasted, Heidecker wrote this:
Glad that Don Rickles was finally held accountable for his endless barrage of insults and hate comedy.— Tim Heidecker (@timheidecker) April 7, 2017
He and Wareheim seem just as squicked out by the possibility of their own canonization. The eighth episode of Awesome Show’s first season is a hammy and intensely grating celebration, set in 2057, of the show’s 50th anniversary. Asked recently by Playboy about the possibility of bringing back Awesome Show for more than a one-off, Heidecker said,
I’m not a very nostalgic person. I understand people who hate us. I get it. If you’re not on the same page, you can quickly become disgusted with us. If you’re not a fan, that’s never going to get better. We just become more and more annoying.
Despite that self-deprecation, the duo has had a broad cultural influence. Awesome Show may be a niche commodity, but its aesthetics have indelibly scarred both comedy and advertising. Heidecker and Wareheim’s production company, Abso Lutely, has turned out a host of projects that are clearly indebted to Awesome Show but also transcend it: Check It Out! With Dr. Steve Brule, The Eric Andre Show, the webseries 555. One Abso Lutely series, Nathan for You, has attained such cultural prominence that even my dad has asked me about it. (The fourth season premieres Sept. 28 on Comedy Central.)
The jewel in the Abso Lutely crown is On Cinema. It began in 2011 as an extremely boring podcast where Heidecker and Gregg Turkington, using their own names, would give vacuous praise to classic movies and box office hits. The podcast became a webseries in 2012 and was picked up by Adult Swim a year later. On Cinema is anchored in the relationship between “Tim Heidecker”—a narcissistic bully who uses the show to work out his Trump-inflected politics, his aspirations to musical stardom, and his many personal calamities—and “Gregg Turkington,” a kitsch-worshipping nebbish who wants to just “focus on the movies.” As of 2017, the “On Cinema Universe” encompasses the feud between the hosts, perpetuated online by Heidecker, Turkington, and a legion of play-acting fans; Decker, an insanely schlocky spy thriller written and produced by and starring “Heidecker,” airing as its own show on Adult Swim; and a heap of primers for newcomers, opera-length Oscar specials, pointless behind-the-scenes footage, and fan Wikis. There’s also an iPhone app, released in 2013 and incompatible with recent operating systems, that provides inane reviews and ratings for more than 17,000 films (with plenty of help from randomization).
Decker has gotten some overdue attention for its uncanny precognitions of the Trump era, but On Cinema as a whole has largely been ignored. It’s dry, it’s hard to write about, and it openly mocks critics. (When the A.V. Club interviewed Heidecker about it in 2015, he railed against the A.V. Club—and its review of The Comedy, in which he starred.) But the project’s insularity is itself a work of art, a sprawling parody of the abundance and convolution of peak TV. On Cinema is a logical sequel to Awesome Show, which—like Monty Python—has been somewhat toxified by overeager admirers. To watch it is to be warned against brainless fandom; to be a fan of it is to reject that warning. Are you then—wait a minute—still a fan? Can a fan have a brain, after all? Are you doomed to become either a Gregg or a Tim, a friendless “buff” or an antisocial auteur? The pleasure of the show lies in these questions.
Awesome Show’s “50th anniversary” episode looked ahead to On Cinema: Tim and Eric, in 2057, are not on speaking terms because the former brutally maimed the latter. The Tim and Eric live show that toured this year was also, reportedly, full of mock-feuding. And there’s a moment in the new episode that does look back with just the right mix of nostalgia and cynicism. Richard Dunn, one of the most beloved and confusing cast members of the original series, died in 2010 at the age of 73. At the end of the new episode, Wareheim unwittingly conjures his “son”—a child with a pronounced combover—who whisks Tim and Eric away to “Dunnderland.” We don’t get to see this heavenly realm, as we may have in past episodes. They just disappear.