Note: I don't typically review televisions series, but Holliston is an exception. You'll hear more about it soon, in a new Kicking the Seat Interview. Stay tuned...
Holliston is a weird TV show--not because it's a horror-themed sitcom on the Fearnet channel, or because lead GWAR vocalist Oderus Urungus (Dave Brockie) appears regularly as the main character's imaginary best friend. No, Holliston is weird because it's a compelling comedy with big ideas that happens to be not very funny.
"How can comedy be compelling if it's not very funny?"
Great question, Fictive Reader! The answer is one I've struggled with over the series' three (aired) episodes. Though I don't tend to stick with laugh-light sitcoms, this show's premise is unique and important enough that all it needs is some fine-tuning in the joke department to really soar.
Holliston perfectly captures the bizarre social and economic vortex we find ourselves swirling around in: two broke, barely employed twenty-somethings in Holliston, MA, dream of becoming big-time horror movie directors. It's unclear if Adam (Adam Green) and Joe (Joe Lynch) went to film school, or if they just decided to make a go of moviemaking; in either case, they struggle with arrested development, hunger, and a desire to not end up like the legions of townies who'll never come close to realizing their dreams.
Sounds pretty great, right? In theory, it is. But actually watching the show is like navigating a gag minefield: for every joke that lands, twenty remain in the ether, held awkwardly aloft by what I can only hope is deliberately bad canned laughter. Take, for example, a "Who's on First"-inspired bit from episode three in which Adam's ex-girlfriend, Corri (Corri English) and Joe's current girlfriend, Laura (Laura Ortiz) get into an argument over the correct pronunciation of a local store ("Market Basket" or "Market Basket"?). The discussion interrupts a crucial scene's flow of action and goes on for way too long--but with a hilariously strange, mounting momentum.
Contrast this with the running joke involving Lance Rockett (Dee Snyder), the guys' boss at a local cable access station. He's the fifty-year-old lead singer of a cock-rock-era 80s tribute band, meaning that according to the Sitcom Writer's Guide to Middle-America Laffs, his entire screen presence must be built around "Is He or Isn't He Gay" running jokes.
These conflicting comedy fronts collide in episode three, when Green (the series' director and writer) calls out his own penchant for having characters throw the word "retarded" around. Joe casually uses it to describe someone or something, and he's met with a disapproving buzzer from off-stage. Adam informs him that it's no longer cool to use that distasteful modifier. Whether or not this was simply a great meta-gag (there are many in this show), or if the "R" word will rear its ugly head again this season, is anyone's guess. Either way, it's a great send-off.
What the show lacks in frequent laughs, it more than makes up for in the goofy-buddy chemistry between Green and Lynch. Adam is the sensitive screw-up, and Joe is the boisterous cheapskate; together, they talk a great deal about leaving Holliston behind and leaving their mark on the horror world. And I really hope they get around to making their hockey-themed thriller, Shinpads. So far, they've scraped together (and blown) enough money to shoot a trailer, but I'm beginning to think their career is just a MacGuffin; after all, a show about aspiring filmmakers who actually make a movie is no longer a show about aspiring filmmakers; it's Sam and Diane all over again.* While it would be nice to see them actually do something instead of constantly react to weird situations (exes reappearing, camera equipment being stolen, getting skunked), I do love watching the show itself skirt responsibility.
If Holliston is to become truly great, and not just a product that horror fans consume because it was made to appeal to them, Green needs to blow up the sitcom formula and get really crazy. I've spent lots of time and words trashing his work as a horror filmmaker, but his segment from Chillerama, The Diary of Anne Frankenstein, proved that there's an insanely talented and committed creator behind the easy genre references and celebrity cameos that helped define him. He seems really passionate about putting on a show for people who were like him ten years ago: looking for a big break and dreaming of a life drenched in Karo syrup and red food coloring. The sincerity shines through, but the execution could use some polish.
Minor gripes aside, this is a cool show with lots of room to grow, and I can't wait to see it hit a consistently entertaining stride. I hope that happens soon, though. I'd hate to wind up as anxious to leave Holliston as Adam and Joe.
*The fact that this reference means nothing to many of you makes me very, very sad.