Here’s the thing about the Crackle original series Backwash, which launched this Monday: I’m not terribly impressed anymore by a celebrity choosing to participate in web content. I am, however, impressed when ALL THE CELEBRITIES, EVER, choose to participate in web content.
Okay, not exactly all the celebrities ever. But Jon Hamm! Hank Azaria! Allison Janney! Anyone else who owed Backwash creator Joshua Malina a favor! And their presence does give the series a certain juice — though somewhat at the expense of the actual narrative.
Backwash, ostensibly, is the story of two wacky brothers — the child-like Jonesy (Michael Panes) and the rough-and-tumble Val (Malina, who’s been a long-time favorite of mine ever since Sports Night) — who accidentally and illegally acquire a large amount of money and struggle to deal with it.
Their story, though, is framed by Masterpiece Theater-style bookends featuring a revolving door of celebrity introduction segments (including the esteemed Hamm, Azaria, and Janney), and the balance between narrator segments and the show’s actual plot is entirely off-kilter, mostly because the narrators are funnier than the actual show. This is completely understandable, being as they are some of America’s finest talents (Alison Janney talking about her love of St. Elmo’s Fire? GOLD), but the meat of the sandwich pales in comparison.
Evaluating the actual story of Backwash on its own inspires questions about the value of quirkiness for quirkiness’s sake. The wacky interaction between Jonesy and Val doesn’t really carry the parts of the show it’s supposed to — neither character stands out as particularly likable or engaging. Much of the actual narrative lacks focus, with the best jokes being the more meta and absurd ones (such as Val always being sure to slap his brother three times, “for comedy”).
However, the show’s energy picks up a lot with the addition of Michael Ian Black’s Nick in episode 3, who helps the brothers make their escape; it’s then that the show’s apparent inspiration — classic comedy teams like the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges — becomes a lot clearer. (It also explains why Malina seems to be talking like a cartoon character from the 1930s.)
So after four episodes released, the show’s promise is increasing, especially as there are plenty more celebrity cameos to come (including John Cho, Steven Weber and John Stamos). At this stage, it’s flawed but strikingly original content, and the strikingly original part makes it worth giving a chance.
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