Apologies again, loyal readers (or reader), for short-changing you last week.
I don’t want to backtrack too much, but did anyone else raise an eyebrow at not one but two mentions of a second season of The Earwolf Challenge? I’ll admit, the first thing that comes to mind is The Apprentice, which...yeah. But The Challenge has at least two things going for it: a likable host and likable competitors. Ten weeks of competitions means Earwolf surely learned some valuable lessons. I look forward to see how the show grows into a second season.
With only three competitors remaining going into Week 9, I can say I’m genuinely dreading the departure of any one of them. Taking a look at my embarrassingly bad predictions from Week 1, I see we’re left with one of my picks for the Final 3 (Left Handed Radio), one of my picks to go home within the first few challenges (The Little Dum Dum Club) and Totally Laime, who I clearly felt would meet an ignominious and unremarkable end somewhere en route. My classic two-thirds wrong guarantee in action. Nailed it.
Episode 9.1: Coaching Sessions
This week on Internet Screw-Job, the challenge is not lose your shit. Actually, I heartily approve of the screw-you twist, which Producer Frank attributes to Earwolf co-founder Scott Aukerman. It’s the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from reality competitions. I just wish it hadn’t come so late in the Challenge run. Even the best challenges of weeks past look pale and wan in comparison. So much “here, go do a thing” chaff, compared to this week’s pointing-and-laughing wheat.
My tortured metaphors aside, the twist is quality entertainment and relevant to the podcast medium. The competitors are told they’ll have an hour to interview Zach Galifianakis, when in fact there is no such interview scheduled. When it comes time for the phone call, they’re sent an email breaking the bad news. Mockingly, one would hope. Then they’re given 30 minutes to come up with something else.
This turns the coaching session into one big farce, as Matt Besser has to just bluff his way through with a straight face. Most of LHR’s session is in fact dedicated to talking about how to approach the interview (plus one brief Old Dirty Bastard anecdote), which is obviously a waste of time for Besser, the producers and the rest of us. But Besser wises up for Totally Laime and Dum Dum, delving into their process instead. It saves what would otherwise be an entire episode of marking-time. Besser’s feigned outrage that playing a game counts as an interview and his over-the-top insults in between Skype calls are funny, but c’mon. I like a good anti-Australian remark as much as the next guy, but they do not in and of themselves a good podcast make.
Episode 9.2: The Challenge
Walking the Room’s Dave Anthony and A Special Thing impresario and Never Not Funny co-host Matt Bellknap join Besser as our guest judges. Another highly qualified pair, to be sure, but, after last week’s Doug Benson and Harris Wittles rapport, it feels like a bit of a step down. I’ll try to push on.
(Seriously, where’s Randy Sklar? Is there tension in Sklarbro Country that only one twin was asked on the show? Surely the last two guest judges will be Aukerman and Jeff Ullrich, right?)
The competitors are, on the whole, understandably pissed about the bait-and-switch. “Bait-and-switch” is probably an understatement, really. The two gab-fests were definitely excited about getting to interview a big star like Zach, and even though LHR didn’t really know what to do with their interview time, it was still going to be Zach Galifianakis.
LDDC is the only one of the three to put that energy -- that angry, angry energy -- into their submission. Ah…comedy: “the angry art.” Definitely working here. For a bit. As the judges point out, they do lose the thread after a couple minutes. Cutting it down to just three minutes would’ve improved it immensely. Even so, it produces the biggest laughs of the episode.
LHR’s entry is soundly panned by the judges, but it makes me laugh. Look, I know Borat’s a tired reference, and I know the sketch is flawed. It makes fun of how outdated the reference is but also tries to indulge in it. The overall result is pretty uneven. Unevenness aside, props to them for dealing with the situation and moving on like the professionals they are. And with editing and sound effects. Impressive. Plus, they managed to find a funny “show me the money” reference, which were previously thought extinct.
Conversely, I really cannot get into Elizabeth and Andy’s impromptu conversation with one another. The judges, on the other hand, love it. Compelling, engaging, etc. When Andy asks, “Can I pretend I’m [Zach]?” I’m pretty disappointed Elizabeth shoots him down. It could’ve been hilarious to invent a series of outright lies to Elizabeth’s prepared questions. Conversely, I find I don’t really care about their stories of awkward young lust. Like Dum Dum’s submission, it spends a lot of time meandering. But without the same level of energy and humor to kick things off. In fact, when the clip’s over, I’m positive Anthony, Belknap and Besser are going to slam it. But no! The opposite occurs! Maybe it’s a good thing I’m not a judge.
Despite the surprise response to Totally Laime’s submssion, the judges offer up a quality discussion about how putting Elizabeth and Andy’s marriage front and center could give the show the hook it needs. This seems like it’d implicitly promote Andy from Psychic to Host. Something at least one past judge discouraged. But, hey...that was weeks ago.
Episode 9.3: The Judgment
For the first time, a judgment episode fills me with a genuine sense of dread. I don’t want any of these podcasts to have to “lose.”
LHR is still pissed. “I guess we just didn’t find it funny you guys lied to us,” says Unnamed LHR Troupe Member #3. Their tale of furious diligence both sheds some light and makes their submission that much more extraordinary. I may be giving them too much credit here, especially since their sketch, which admittedly got a laugh or two out of me, was pretty sub par overall. But they offer up a solid defense and really seem to have it together, both technically and creatively. Earwolf could do worse.
“Isn’t the goal to make you laugh, at the end of the day?” Anthony muses after they hang up on LHR. Hmm. I’ll come back to that later.
Tommy and Karl aren’t quite as, uh, magnanimous as their Brooklyn competitors. They aren’t quite their usual affable selves. When asked if they kept a full five minutes on purpose when three may have been better, Karl seethes, “I was just five minutes’ worth of angry, that’s all.” Well, maybe he doesn’t seethe, per se, but it’s certainly the least-pleasant we’ve heard them over the past nine weeks. Then Anthony finishes it off with some good-ol’ American bullying, and they hang up.
Then Anthony adds, “I will say this: those two guys made me laugh the most.” Isn’t that the goal, at the end of the day? Perhaps not.
After some podcast-related chit-chat, it’s time for The Challenge’s most dramatic rose ceremony yet. LHR is cut loose, and they are calm and reserved in defeat. “Well, you blew it!” shouts Unnamed LHR Troupe Member #2. I can’t help but feel he’s right.
But really, having to let any of these three go feels like “blowing it,” in a way. The silver lining is the exposure received, plus the weeks of discussing the ins and outs of sketch comedy with Besser. Anna delivers one last quality barb: “Fuck it, Nerdist approached us with a million dollars!”
Now it’s on to Week 10. Excitement! What challenge does the last week of the competition hold? If it’s anything like your Top Chefs or your Project Runways, it’ll be something standard. Giving the remaining two podcasts near-total creative freedom. So, let’s hope it isn’t that.
In the meantime, I’ll tide myself over with the latest episode of LHR. Shine on, you crazy diamonds.