Friday, January 31, 2014

The LA Review of Book's posts very sketchy satire of Kroll Show, at least I hope it's a satire.

Jane Hu, and  Anne Helen Peterson have written the definitive explication of comedy central's failed Kroll Show. It's the most majestic example of the press's lack of integrity to ever to dis-grace the eyelids of the chattering classes. It's both delicious and putrid both. I urge you to read it. I've pasted it below.

 I contend on this modest oasis of a blogger blog, that their reviews will go down in history- as the most unintentionally hilarious( and astoundingly cynical) TV reviews by book reviewers in the history of modern Television. How's that for a genre? The best of the worst TV reviews by Book Reviewers in the post modern era. Niche Genre for sure. Add the reason for the "reviews," and it gets nichier still.

 When I get it together, to read it on a stage, I imagine roars from the audience if I just intersperse this copy with the actual sketches from the Kroll Show.


The backstory of how two purported book reviewer academic sorts like Jane Hu and Anne Helen Peterson is also a blast:
 http://lareviewofbooks.org/essay/broad-city

The Backstory behind the insane commission/essay/ review:

When the ratings, according to TV-aholic, went to O.4 in the target demographic of 19-49 year olds these two were called to drop the book reviews(whether genuine or commissioned by donors and their associates)and concoct some last ditch way to save this godawful production from overdue extinction.

Apparently, 660 thousand viewers is a poor showing for a show with this much nepotism and advertising and marketing behind it. Not to mention all those journo hos approached to spread the word about the turd of a tv show of big donor Jules Kroll. All effort to foist this sewage on the public wasn't working. Let's get the intelligencia that answers to donations to at least impart that this is a noble failure.  With ratings so low and true public opinion being one of disdain-- let's help Jules Kroll's awful child save some face before the house of cards falls. That's right. Put it out there that the public was just too stupid for this Nick Kroll's sophisticated satire. LOL. ROFL. What an absurdist farce, ladies.


Without further ado, I present this review:
Broad City and Kroll Show



Broad City and Kroll Show by Anne Helen Petersen, Jane Hu & Phillip Maciak

Comedy Central's new sketchy sketch comedies

January 29th, 2014 reset - +
This Week on Dear Television
¤
The Real Nice Guys of Reality (Life)By Jane Hu
January 29, 2014
KROLL SHOW is the most uncanny half-hour comedy — scratch that, half-hour anything — currently on TV. It’s probably uncannier than hour-long reality shows that ask viewers to soak in the rarified lives of those who are, in some ways, just like us! As Annie and others have pointed out, Kroll’s sketch-comedy show takes primarily from reality shows (themselves already plenty uncanny!) and re-estranges them in order to emphasize their absurdity. There’s a way that, after that dip into the uncanny valley, Kroll’s show slides right back up to being more hyper-canny than un-canny — so real and so on point — that I begin to question its difference from reality as such. Are you still with me? Kroll Show is quick in every sense of the word. It’s a manic ride, full of wonderful generic, rhetorical, logical (and so comedic) turns. And if you’re not watching it already, is it because you don’t like things that are both funny and smart?
Nick Kroll is so smart. El Chupacabra is like a real person to me.
Once, on a train ride from Santa Barbara back up to San Francisco, I listened to every Comedy Bang Bang episode featuring Kroll. The man sitting next to me had to watch me contort my face in endlessly hideous ways to keep from cracking up. I will just come out and say that Kroll is not only one of the most intelligent American comedians of his cohort, but one of the weirdest. Only Maria Bamford compares. Statement of the year, I know.

In podcasts, Kroll repeatedly acknowledges that he grew up in the wealthy enclave of Rye, NY. Kroll’s awareness of privilege isn’t just awareness — it’s a form of meta-awareness. Which sounds like a douchey thing to say, but to watch Kroll demonstrate this meta-awareness is quite the opposite. Being self-conscious about privilege doesn’t work as a joke for Kroll. Instead, the joke lies in thinking that being self-conscious about privilege were in itself enough to be funny, or enough to brush off the unhip “baggage” of privilege. Kroll is more creative and, dare I say, more sensitive than that.
“Rich Dicks” is a recurring sketch on Kroll Show starring Kroll as Aspen Bruckheimer and Jon Daly as Wendy Shawn IV. It’s a clear riff on Kroll’s monied background and, while ridiculous, it’s also not the funniest of Kroll’s characters. There is only so much humor one can derive from making fun of rich white people, even if at the sake of deriding them. “Rich Dicks” also taps into bawdy or gross-out humor more than any of the other sketches. They shit on everything. The message is clear: these dicks are physically gross and literally beyond recall.
But back to sensitivity. There are also a few sensitive dicks on Kroll Show and, almost as if inversing “Rich Dicks,” this sensitivity is partly dependent on class. C-Czar is kind of a sweetheart (especially on his skating date with Jenny Slate’s Liz). He’s scary on the outside but sweet on the inside. Like a croissant. And this is sort of how I feel about Kroll Show more generally. It might be a little unnerving to look at initially, but it’s got a lot of character.
Annie has already pointed out the show’s hardcore formalism:
if you were just watching the visuals, that’s what it’d look like: a pitch perfect reproduction of the aesthetics that govern low-budget, cable-filler reality: slow-mos, filler replays, hashtags, cheap digital interview backgrounds, stagey font choices, 7th-grade-style use of filters, musical montages, and gag sound effects abound.

It’s this use of familiar television codes that signal to viewers the genres to expect from Kroll Show. These codes also help upset and, in a way, finally clarify viewers’ very definition of the specific genres used, and (more ambitiously!) the concept of genre more generally. To recognize the logo from The Real Housewives franchise or The Twilight Zone (uncannyyyyyy) might prompt a kind of feel-good, pat-yourself-on-the-back fuzziness. (Aside from the odd film, they are almost always televisual references; though did you see the inclusion of Spring Breakers title-font for Season 2?) Oh, you’re so clever! You’re so cultured. But to recognize them is also damning. Among these television logos, there is also a Snickers bar, or the familiar branding of a Heineken or Absolut bottle. To recognize televisual codes easily slides into calling oneself a smug capitalist dick. That’s what the rapid-fire title sequence does — its explosive speed announces that you’re, in a way, buying into the conglomerate franchise of capitalist and easy-to-consume American culture. Even if you acknowledge it, even if you acknowledge its meta-ness, you’re still complicit.
No matter how alienating, distorted, or exaggerated the content of Kroll’s sketches, his rigorous formalism locks us into the fact that we could not be enjoying (or critiquing) what we’re seeing without the privilege of first being familiar with what the show might be attempting to take apart. So don’t just be another rich dick, or be one, whatever, you might not be able to help it. The dethroning of the unfairly entitled can easily become a facile or futile exercise, and this certainly holds for TV comedies. What comes through, I think, more emphatically in Kroll Show is what it’s trying to build rather than deconstruct. There is a kind of uncanny perspective that is more than just self-effacing or shameful. And the tenderness Kroll affords to characters like C-Czar and Bobby Bottleservice (I mean, these characters try, they really try in a ways more admirable than laughable) that opens to what I consider the heart of Kroll’s comedy. Lili once told me she loved Maria Bamford because one could tell that Bamford possessed a fundamental kindness that was undeniable no matter where she took her characters. The same goes for Kroll. It’s also what makes character work work.
Heroes in a half-shell, brah,
Jane
¤

Kroll Show: Blowing the Bully Out of the WaterBy Anne Helen Petersen
January 28, 2014
Dear Television,
IN AN INTERVIEW with NPR earlier this year, Nick Kroll articulated what he loved about his sketch comedy show, Kroll Show, now in its second season on Comedy Central. “Being able to play a bunch of different characters has given me a break from just playing this one character,” he explained, “and I’m very lucky that I get to do that.”
Kroll is talking about playing a character onscreen, but he could also be talking about his life — or anyone’s life — and the performance of self the accompanies it. We all play a character, with attendant standards of masculinity, femininity, social class, race, nationality, sexuality, the list goes on — and that performance not only becomes monotonous, but exhausting.
Reality television takes that exhausting life performance and manages to simultaneously amplify and flatten it — to make it as legible and, by extension, as commodifiable as possible. A person becomes a character; a week becomes a 22-minute show; a life becomes a performance. And the individual comes to represent the general: this is what everyone who is working class and from New Jersey is from; this is how every wealthy housewife in Atlanta behaves. Through editing and choice production decisions, a person’s life becomes a stereotype. If our media reflects our ideologies, then reality television is its most potent exponent.
Which is precisely what makes Kroll Show so squeamish and progressive: it takes television’s potent ideological form and amplifies it to its breaking point. I watch each sketch certain that it will collapse in on the blackhole of self-referentiality and performativity, but it never happens. The ideas it’s working with (almost always, riffs on what it’s like to be a man in American/Canadian society today) are just too strong to implode entirely. But more than SNL and maybe as much as Key & PeeleKroll Show comes close.
Kroll Show masques itself as a dude show — its star, after all, is most famous for his turn on the dudetastic The League, and Comedy Central is nothing if not a dude’s club, with certain cool girls (Sarah Silverman, Amy Sedaris, Amy Schumer and, now, the cast of Broad City) allowed if they can play along.
What’s magnificent, then, is the way that Kroll Show manages to skewer not only dudes like the host of the ultimate in horrible dude shows, Daniel Tosh, but dudes who like Tosh, and even the other shows that dudes who like Tosh watch. It’s like a full-frontal assault on dude culture and the ideologies that support it, but in dickfest drag.
In fact, Kroll is one masculine drag show after another, each fitted into the bounds of a popular reality show genre, “docudrama,” music videos, or teenage melodrama. In all but the teenage melodrama, characters “play” themselves, which provides the first level of performance: Bobby Bottleservice is a “real” guy, but he plays the role of Bobby Bottleservice for various reality programs (Ghost BouncersVery Much Reluctant Gigolos), sitting for interviews with the camera, amping up interactions with his “friends”/co-stars, and participating in the staging of artificial drama to provide a form of narrative structure.
But that’s just the first layer — a level of performativity to which we’ve gradually grown accustomed. The second layer is Kroll’s performance of a reality star’s performance of “real self.” Here’s where the show could easily descend into the valley of toothless, SNL-style pastiche, reproducing, but not commenting, on the original performances of masculinity. And if you were just watching the visuals, that’s what it’d look like: a pitch perfect reproduction of the aesthetics that govern low-budget, cable-filler reality: slow-mos, filler replays, hashtags, cheap digital interview backgrounds, stagey font choices, 7th-grade-style use of filters, musical montages, and gag sound effects abound.
What elevates Kroll from precise pastiche, however, is alienating content. Take the Season One commercial for “Screws,” which starts out like a shot-for-shot reproduction of a Home Depot ad until, suddenly, the helpful employee suggests that what the middle-class white couple really wants, in terms of home improvement, is advice on how to make a secret room….where they can hide captives.

On another show, the joke might end there — it’s 30 seconds in, after all, which would make it a perfect commercial length. But the commercial keeps pushing: this couple wants to use the secret room to hide their molestation victims, and the reason the employee is so skilled at offering advice is because he, himself, was molested as a child; eventually, the couple lock him up and, when he tries to yell for help at commercial’s end, the husband figure, played by Kroll, breaks into a demonic, child-molester yell.
Written out, this all sounds in very poor taste. But the best satire often is: as Jerry Lewis famously explained, “if the comic can berate and finally blow the bully out of the water, he has hitched himself to an identifiable human purpose.” What the “Screws” sketch does, then, isn’t just to make us giggle at the mundane set-up of a bourgeois home improvement commercial, but show the performativity of good American capitalist citizenship.
In the store, these two look like the most average white Americans possible — which is another way of saying that they look like the people we see in commercials — but that’s a performance.  If Kroll showed them buying materials and going home to watch football and let them moulder in the garage, okay, that’s a nice NPR-style joke, but it doesn’t make the performance outrageous and visible enough. Through dark, twisted means, “Screws” makes the ideology that underpins and naturalizes this type of commercial legible. It’s “too much,” but if you’re not slightly uncomfortable by what a piece of satire is doing, then either it’s doing it wrong or you’re watching it wrong.
The same concept applies to nearly every Kroll sketch. The Bryan LaCroix “Enter Me” music video promotions highlight the dissonance between the strains of innocence and sexually predation that underpin the image of the teen idol (and, in this case, Justin Bieber in particular); “Beats and Rice” takes the practice of finding raw, politically-engaged artists on the internet, throwing money at them, and sanitizing / lobotimizing their sound in order to appeal to corporate interests. “Ref Jeff” forces the average and unremarkable viewer to identify with the referee’s desperate attempts at familiarity, essentially ventriloquizing the fan’s performance of intimacy with the stars he follows, while “Drones” shows just how impotent the American soldier, operating in the age of fully-mechanized drone warfare, has become. 
These skits are all funny, but it’s the reality spoofs I find most lacerating. In a recent Splitsider piece, Eric Voss claims that Kroll’s reality satire “demonstrates how low the bar has sunk, and how easily we embrace obnoxious personalities with no discernible talents as celebrities, thanks to flashy editing and contrived scenarios.” Kroll’s pastiche does, indeed, lampoon the facile narrative devices employed by reality television, but Voss misses the true target of the satire: it’s not us, as viewers, or even the reality stars themselves, so much as the producers of this type of television, and the way it alternates between castrating malice, misogynistic leering, and a callous, condescending form of race and class tourism.
On the surface, “PubLIZity” seems to be reproducing the contemporary dude-claim that girls-are-crazy-bitches. Both Lizes — one played by Kroll, the other by the magnificent Jenny Slate — are vapid, skilless, and obsessed with appearance, no matter the effect on substance. “PubLIZity” is edited in a way that both appear to fill their lives with arguing with each other, insulting each other face-to-face, and complaining about each other behind closed doors. Men are useless and treat them like shit; other women are competitors, including the Lizes themselves.
 
It’s a horrible way of thinking of women.  It’s also the way that 95% of reality television presents its characters. The women featured in these shows are the paragons of postfeminism, demonstrating what happens when you sacrifice the politics of feminism for the promise of consumption.  If the various (real) shows that exploit these women subconsciously hint at the dystopic undercurrents of that lifestyle, then “PubLIZity” shoves them in your face: the tolerance of porn-like sexual treatment, the blase attitude towards eating disorders as a means to a desirable end, image-obsession that leads to arranging plastic surgery for your dog — it’s horrifying, but it’s not that much of an exaggeration of any episode of the Real Housewives franchise.
Both Lizes are ridiculous, but I’d argue that the implicit message of “Publizity,” like “Armond of the House,” “Dad Academy,” “Very Much Reluctant Gigolo,” and the dozens of other reality satires is that something -- the reality television apparatus, specifically, and our participation therein, broadly — made them this way. The postfeminist woman, the castrated man, the fetishized ethnicity, the pathologized affectation, they’re not the problem, but the victims.  We watch them in horror, but as Kroll suggests, we should be much more terrified by the various apparatuses, industrial and ideological, that made them that way.
¤
With satire, there’s always a risk that people won’t be sharp enough to catch the joke and, as a result, wield the satire in a manner counter to the comedian’s aims.  Anti-Semites singing “Throw the Jew Down the Well,” for example, or white frat dudes misappropriating lines from Chappelle Show. There’s a real possibility that people will use Kroll’s performance of Liz as a misogynistic weapon, or dress up as C-Czar for a white trash party.
But the farther Kroll pushes these skits, the more difficult it is to mistake them as endorsing the industry’s treatment of these characters, or what reality television, in general, has wrought of the raw material of so many people’s lives.  In these reality shows, the subjects are the joke: and that’s not political or progressive; it’s mean, classist and a means of implicitly disciplining bodies and lifestyles that are marked as “other.” And that mode of entertainment, more than anything else, is what Kroll busies itself with blowing out of the water. 
By the power of this vest on me,
AHP
Broad City and Kroll Show


January 29th, 2014 reset - +
This Week on Dear Television
¤
The Real Nice Guys of Reality (Life)By Jane Hu
January 29, 2014
KROLL SHOW is the most uncanny half-hour comedy — scratch that, half-hour anything — currently on TV. It’s probably uncannier than hour-long reality shows that ask viewers to soak in the rarified lives of those who are, in some ways, just like us! As Annie and others have pointed out, Kroll’s sketch-comedy show takes primarily from reality shows (themselves already plenty uncanny!) and re-estranges them in order to emphasize their absurdity. There’s a way that, after that dip into the uncanny valley, Kroll’s show slides right back up to being more hyper-canny than un-canny — so real and so on point — that I begin to question its difference from reality as such. Are you still with me? Kroll Show is quick in every sense of the word. It’s a manic ride, full of wonderful generic, rhetorical, logical (and so comedic) turns. And if you’re not watching it already, is it because you don’t like things that are both funny and smart?
Nick Kroll is so smart. El Chupacabra is like a real person to me.
Once, on a train ride from Santa Barbara back up to San Francisco, I listened to every Comedy Bang Bang episode featuring Kroll. The man sitting next to me had to watch me contort my face in endlessly hideous ways to keep from cracking up. I will just come out and say that Kroll is not only one of the most intelligent American comedians of his cohort, but one of the weirdest. Only Maria Bamford compares. Statement of the year, I know.

In podcasts, Kroll repeatedly acknowledges that he grew up in the wealthy enclave of Rye, NY. Kroll’s awareness of privilege isn’t just awareness — it’s a form of meta-awareness. Which sounds like a douchey thing to say, but to watch Kroll demonstrate this meta-awareness is quite the opposite. Being self-conscious about privilege doesn’t work as a joke for Kroll. Instead, the joke lies in thinking that being self-conscious about privilege were in itself enough to be funny, or enough to brush off the unhip “baggage” of privilege. Kroll is more creative and, dare I say, more sensitive than that.
“Rich Dicks” is a recurring sketch on Kroll Show starring Kroll as Aspen Bruckheimer and Jon Daly as Wendy Shawn IV. It’s a clear riff on Kroll’s monied background and, while ridiculous, it’s also not the funniest of Kroll’s characters. There is only so much humor one can derive from making fun of rich white people, even if at the sake of deriding them. “Rich Dicks” also taps into bawdy or gross-out humor more than any of the other sketches. They shit on everything. The message is clear: these dicks are physically gross and literally beyond recall.
But back to sensitivity. There are also a few sensitive dicks on Kroll Show and, almost as if inversing “Rich Dicks,” this sensitivity is partly dependent on class. C-Czar is kind of a sweetheart (especially on his skating date with Jenny Slate’s Liz). He’s scary on the outside but sweet on the inside. Like a croissant. And this is sort of how I feel about Kroll Show more generally. It might be a little unnerving to look at initially, but it’s got a lot of character.
Annie has already pointed out the show’s hardcore formalism:
if you were just watching the visuals, that’s what it’d look like: a pitch perfect reproduction of the aesthetics that govern low-budget, cable-filler reality: slow-mos, filler replays, hashtags, cheap digital interview backgrounds, stagey font choices, 7th-grade-style use of filters, musical montages, and gag sound effects abound.

It’s this use of familiar television codes that signal to viewers the genres to expect from Kroll Show. These codes also help upset and, in a way, finally clarify viewers’ very definition of the specific genres used, and (more ambitiously!) the concept of genre more generally. To recognize the logo from The Real Housewives franchise or The Twilight Zone (uncannyyyyyy) might prompt a kind of feel-good, pat-yourself-on-the-back fuzziness. (Aside from the odd film, they are almost always televisual references; though did you see the inclusion of Spring Breakers title-font for Season 2?) Oh, you’re so clever! You’re so cultured. But to recognize them is also damning. Among these television logos, there is also a Snickers bar, or the familiar branding of a Heineken or Absolut bottle. To recognize televisual codes easily slides into calling oneself a smug capitalist dick. That’s what the rapid-fire title sequence does — its explosive speed announces that you’re, in a way, buying into the conglomerate franchise of capitalist and easy-to-consume American culture. Even if you acknowledge it, even if you acknowledge its meta-ness, you’re still complicit.
No matter how alienating, distorted, or exaggerated the content of Kroll’s sketches, his rigorous formalism locks us into the fact that we could not be enjoying (or critiquing) what we’re seeing without the privilege of first being familiar with what the show might be attempting to take apart. So don’t just be another rich dick, or be one, whatever, you might not be able to help it. The dethroning of the unfairly entitled can easily become a facile or futile exercise, and this certainly holds for TV comedies. What comes through, I think, more emphatically in Kroll Show is what it’s trying to build rather than deconstruct. There is a kind of uncanny perspective that is more than just self-effacing or shameful. And the tenderness Kroll affords to characters like C-Czar and Bobby Bottleservice (I mean, these characters try, they really try in a ways more admirable than laughable) that opens to what I consider the heart of Kroll’s comedy. Lili once told me she loved Maria Bamford because one could tell that Bamford possessed a fundamental kindness that was undeniable no matter where she took her characters. The same goes for Kroll. It’s also what makes character work work.
Heroes in a half-shell, brah,
Jane
¤

Kroll Show: Blowing the Bully Out of the WaterBy Anne Helen Petersen
January 28, 2014
Dear Television,
IN AN INTERVIEW with NPR earlier this year, Nick Kroll articulated what he loved about his sketch comedy show, Kroll Show, now in its second season on Comedy Central. “Being able to play a bunch of different characters has given me a break from just playing this one character,” he explained, “and I’m very lucky that I get to do that.”
Kroll is talking about playing a character onscreen, but he could also be talking about his life — or anyone’s life — and the performance of self the accompanies it. We all play a character, with attendant standards of masculinity, femininity, social class, race, nationality, sexuality, the list goes on — and that performance not only becomes monotonous, but exhausting.
Reality television takes that exhausting life performance and manages to simultaneously amplify and flatten it — to make it as legible and, by extension, as commodifiable as possible. A person becomes a character; a week becomes a 22-minute show; a life becomes a performance. And the individual comes to represent the general: this is what everyone who is working class and from New Jersey is from; this is how every wealthy housewife in Atlanta behaves. Through editing and choice production decisions, a person’s life becomes a stereotype. If our media reflects our ideologies, then reality television is its most potent exponent.
Which is precisely what makes Kroll Show so squeamish and progressive: it takes television’s potent ideological form and amplifies it to its breaking point. I watch each sketch certain that it will collapse in on the blackhole of self-referentiality and performativity, but it never happens. The ideas it’s working with (almost always, riffs on what it’s like to be a man in American/Canadian society today) are just too strong to implode entirely. But more than SNL and maybe as much as Key & PeeleKroll Show comes close.
Kroll Show masques itself as a dude show — its star, after all, is most famous for his turn on the dudetastic The League, and Comedy Central is nothing if not a dude’s club, with certain cool girls (Sarah Silverman, Amy Sedaris, Amy Schumer and, now, the cast of Broad City) allowed if they can play along.
What’s magnificent, then, is the way that Kroll Show manages to skewer not only dudes like the host of the ultimate in horrible dude shows, Daniel Tosh, but dudes who like Tosh, and even the other shows that dudes who like Tosh watch. It’s like a full-frontal assault on dude culture and the ideologies that support it, but in dickfest drag.
In fact, Kroll is one masculine drag show after another, each fitted into the bounds of a popular reality show genre, “docudrama,” music videos, or teenage melodrama. In all but the teenage melodrama, characters “play” themselves, which provides the first level of performance: Bobby Bottleservice is a “real” guy, but he plays the role of Bobby Bottleservice for various reality programs (Ghost BouncersVery Much Reluctant Gigolos), sitting for interviews with the camera, amping up interactions with his “friends”/co-stars, and participating in the staging of artificial drama to provide a form of narrative structure.
But that’s just the first layer — a level of performativity to which we’ve gradually grown accustomed. The second layer is Kroll’s performance of a reality star’s performance of “real self.” Here’s where the show could easily descend into the valley of toothless, SNL-style pastiche, reproducing, but not commenting, on the original performances of masculinity. And if you were just watching the visuals, that’s what it’d look like: a pitch perfect reproduction of the aesthetics that govern low-budget, cable-filler reality: slow-mos, filler replays, hashtags, cheap digital interview backgrounds, stagey font choices, 7th-grade-style use of filters, musical montages, and gag sound effects abound.
What elevates Kroll from precise pastiche, however, is alienating content. Take the Season One commercial for “Screws,” which starts out like a shot-for-shot reproduction of a Home Depot ad until, suddenly, the helpful employee suggests that what the middle-class white couple really wants, in terms of home improvement, is advice on how to make a secret room….where they can hide captives.

On another show, the joke might end there — it’s 30 seconds in, after all, which would make it a perfect commercial length. But the commercial keeps pushing: this couple wants to use the secret room to hide their molestation victims, and the reason the employee is so skilled at offering advice is because he, himself, was molested as a child; eventually, the couple lock him up and, when he tries to yell for help at commercial’s end, the husband figure, played by Kroll, breaks into a demonic, child-molester yell.
Written out, this all sounds in very poor taste. But the best satire often is: as Jerry Lewis famously explained, “if the comic can berate and finally blow the bully out of the water, he has hitched himself to an identifiable human purpose.” What the “Screws” sketch does, then, isn’t just to make us giggle at the mundane set-up of a bourgeois home improvement commercial, but show the performativity of good American capitalist citizenship.
In the store, these two look like the most average white Americans possible — which is another way of saying that they look like the people we see in commercials — but that’s a performance.  If Kroll showed them buying materials and going home to watch football and let them moulder in the garage, okay, that’s a nice NPR-style joke, but it doesn’t make the performance outrageous and visible enough. Through dark, twisted means, “Screws” makes the ideology that underpins and naturalizes this type of commercial legible. It’s “too much,” but if you’re not slightly uncomfortable by what a piece of satire is doing, then either it’s doing it wrong or you’re watching it wrong.
The same concept applies to nearly every Kroll sketch. The Bryan LaCroix “Enter Me” music video promotions highlight the dissonance between the strains of innocence and sexually predation that underpin the image of the teen idol (and, in this case, Justin Bieber in particular); “Beats and Rice” takes the practice of finding raw, politically-engaged artists on the internet, throwing money at them, and sanitizing / lobotimizing their sound in order to appeal to corporate interests. “Ref Jeff” forces the average and unremarkable viewer to identify with the referee’s desperate attempts at familiarity, essentially ventriloquizing the fan’s performance of intimacy with the stars he follows, while “Drones” shows just how impotent the American soldier, operating in the age of fully-mechanized drone warfare, has become. 
These skits are all funny, but it’s the reality spoofs I find most lacerating. In a recent Splitsider piece, Eric Voss claims that Kroll’s reality satire “demonstrates how low the bar has sunk, and how easily we embrace obnoxious personalities with no discernible talents as celebrities, thanks to flashy editing and contrived scenarios.” Kroll’s pastiche does, indeed, lampoon the facile narrative devices employed by reality television, but Voss misses the true target of the satire: it’s not us, as viewers, or even the reality stars themselves, so much as the producers of this type of television, and the way it alternates between castrating malice, misogynistic leering, and a callous, condescending form of race and class tourism.
On the surface, “PubLIZity” seems to be reproducing the contemporary dude-claim that girls-are-crazy-bitches. Both Lizes — one played by Kroll, the other by the magnificent Jenny Slate — are vapid, skilless, and obsessed with appearance, no matter the effect on substance. “PubLIZity” is edited in a way that both appear to fill their lives with arguing with each other, insulting each other face-to-face, and complaining about each other behind closed doors. Men are useless and treat them like shit; other women are competitors, including the Lizes themselves.
 
It’s a horrible way of thinking of women.  It’s also the way that 95% of reality television presents its characters. The women featured in these shows are the paragons of postfeminism, demonstrating what happens when you sacrifice the politics of feminism for the promise of consumption.  If the various (real) shows that exploit these women subconsciously hint at the dystopic undercurrents of that lifestyle, then “PubLIZity” shoves them in your face: the tolerance of porn-like sexual treatment, the blase attitude towards eating disorders as a means to a desirable end, image-obsession that leads to arranging plastic surgery for your dog — it’s horrifying, but it’s not that much of an exaggeration of any episode of the Real Housewives franchise.
Both Lizes are ridiculous, but I’d argue that the implicit message of “Publizity,” like “Armond of the House,” “Dad Academy,” “Very Much Reluctant Gigolo,” and the dozens of other reality satires is that something -- the reality television apparatus, specifically, and our participation therein, broadly — made them this way. The postfeminist woman, the castrated man, the fetishized ethnicity, the pathologized affectation, they’re not the problem, but the victims.  We watch them in horror, but as Kroll suggests, we should be much more terrified by the various apparatuses, industrial and ideological, that made them that way.
¤
With satire, there’s always a risk that people won’t be sharp enough to catch the joke and, as a result, wield the satire in a manner counter to the comedian’s aims.  Anti-Semites singing “Throw the Jew Down the Well,” for example, or white frat dudes misappropriating lines from Chappelle Show. There’s a real possibility that people will use Kroll’s performance of Liz as a misogynistic weapon, or dress up as C-Czar for a white trash party.
But the farther Kroll pushes these skits, the more difficult it is to mistake them as endorsing the industry’s treatment of these characters, or what reality television, in general, has wrought of the raw material of so many people’s lives.  In these reality shows, the subjects are the joke: and that’s not political or progressive; it’s mean, classist and a means of implicitly disciplining bodies and lifestyles that are marked as “other.” And that mode of entertainment, more than anything else, is what Kroll busies itself with blowing out of the water. 
By the power of this vest on me,
AHP
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