Ilana Glazer as Sharee, Paul W. Downs as Jeff.
In “Losing My Edge,” LCD Soundsystem bandleader James Murphy curses all the “art-school Brooklynites in their little jackets and borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered ’80s.” Though he confesses that the worst part is “they’re all actually really nice,” he’s dead-on in his articulation of this pattern recurring among young people. Undue romanticization of the past isn’t just for old-timers; regardless of the decade into which they were born, people begin pining for bygone eras around the time they enter their teen years. How nice it must have been to roll around in the mud with the flower children at Woodstock, to savor the postwar innocence of ’50s America, to luxuriate in the hedonism and decadence of the ’70s! If you’re looking for an extra-horrifying experience, strike up a conversation with a hip high-schooler about the ’90s. To those born after 9/11, it sounds like a glorious time when everyone dressed in so-uncool-it’s-cool thrift-shop threads and listened to the earliest strains of what would become indie music.
This is, of course, not how it happened. As it winds up, Time Traveling Bong settles on the clear-cut moral that life in the past was decidedly inferior to the modern era. Whatever comforting simplicity past centuries might have offered was not nearly worth the basic difficulty of living without technology, and definitely not worth the culture of unquestioned intolerance. In 2016, we have running water, toilet paper, and food for delivery, but more importantly, Sharee can go through her days without the constant fear of getting stabbed in the boob. But the road to return to the glorious work-in-progress that is present-day America is long and paved with syringes full of AIDS, which is worse than ever. But that’s life.
“The End…?” picks up with Ilana and Trey having finally made it to ancient Greece, which ushers them into an orgy far removed from their earlier caveman sex party. They never get their Greek salad, but the two cousins do end up getting laid — a little too laid. They’ve been heretofore weirdly comfortable around one another for people who share a bloodline: Jeff didn’t bat an eye when Sharee did topless yoga back in caveman-times, they’re surprisingly open about their masturbatory habits, and in a great sight gag, the camera cuts back to reveal that a woman has been fellating Jeff for the entirety of a conversation he’d been having with Sharee. And so the horrifying relevation that they made drunken, incestuous love in the heat of the orgy doesn’t come completely out of nowhere. Even so, the swiftness with which the narrative moves past what ought to be a game-changing turn of events in Jeff and Sharee’s dynamic is strange. That is, strange for a show about a bong that can traverse time and space, so maybe the bar for what can be considered “strange” has been raised.
The story wouldn’t have been complete without a trip into the distant future, where Downs, Aniello, and Glazer envision a prophecy of dystopian doom. With all the subtlety of Wall-E, Time Traveling Bong turns the future into a barren hellscape of mankind’s own creation. The episode appears geared toward an environmentalist slant as the cruel rays of the globally warmed sun and vast amber waves of hot garbage present themselves as inescapable plagues. But the (admittedly facile) social commentary goes deeper once our heroes join the resistance and learn that Monsanto has absorbed every remaining corporation except for an online porn company, which during this election cycle, no longer seems like such a remote reality.
Glazer, Aniello, and Downs all make for good sports as they expose the many, many plot holes of this project. But audiences forgive a lot of sketchy plotting when it comes to fiction involving time-travel, and they’ll forgive anything if they’re stoned enough, so the specifics of narrative construction are largely beside the point. (Primer this ain’t.) Time Traveling Bong claims two separate, occasionally conflicting objectives for its 60-odd minutes. The dauntless search for laughs wherever and whenever they might be found occasionally generates friction against the loudly conscious undercurrent of societal critique, but in the end … all the vibes are good, brah.
Stoner comedies typically succeed when they remain small and modest. Simple tasks become epic journeys when the parties tackling them are as baked as a soufflé — trips to get little hamburgers, a hunt for a lost car, a disastrous odyssey to make it in time to an audition and pay back a local dealer. Time Traveling Bong has grander ambitions than most, both for the scope of Jeff and Sharee’s misadventures and their purpose. They bring this potent strain of comedy to people across the shifting sands of time, and leave a trail of worse-off but slightly more enlightened strangers in their wake. That’s something worth smiling about, then smiling bigger, then laughing uncontrollably for no reason at all.
Assorted Thoughts and Questions:
- The show comments on its own unlikely existence when the future-rebel (played by Ilana’s brother, Eliot Glazer) explains how the time-traveling bong came into being with, “It started as a silly idea among friends!” That Downs and Glazer’s goofy web short now runs on Comedy Central can’t be more surreal to anyone but them.
- Everyone in the future speaking in a racist East Asian accent is a much better joke on paper than when performed. The logic adds up — China has seized control of the planet, so nobody’s a native speaker of English anymore — but at the end of the day, it unfortunately is what it is. If this detail were in service of a larger, more subversive satirical point, perhaps it’d be more admissible, but as it stands, it just seems to be a convoluted way to justify a racist stereotype. This perversion of good intentions, however, is keeping perfectly in step with the spirit of the show.
- Condom technology has really come a long way since the days of ancient Greece. Everyone knows a sheep’s bladder should only be used as a toy, like in Little House on the Prairie.