03 April 2013
For the past three years, the Adult Swim network has quietly been creating a new model of broadcast television. They produce parody sitcoms with a limited run time and next to no budget, and in return the creators and stars of these series get an enormous amount of creative freedom. The first show produced under this model was Childrens Hospital, a parody of every medical drama you’ve ever seen, with the comedy often taken far beyond anything you would find on network television. Two more shows quickly followed, Eagleheart and NTSF:SD:SUV, which lovingly mock cop shows and actions movies respectively. By giving almost complete creative control to hilariously funny people, Adult Swim has carved out a little comedy empire, one 12 minute episode at a time. Adult Swim is adding to their lineup once again, with Newsreaders.
Newreaders lampoons news television shows, and does it so accurately that a viewer could easily mistake it for an episode of Inside Edition. That is, until Dan Rather appears to discuss his new rap career and host Louis Lafonda previews a story revealing a golf academy as a front for a terrorist sleeper cell. And this is before the open credits even appear. The premiere episode finds Newsreaders investigating a surge in nondescript white van sales after they appear in a hugely successful porn website, where young women climb into the back of vans and “do stuff”. Newsreaders is a spin off from Childrens Hospital, and it continues the parent show’s penchant for taking absurdist humour to extreme levels. As a result, the fictional “[BLEEP] VAN” company becomes embroiled in lawsuit because a viewer who purchased an identical van did not have the same success rate convincing women to “do stuff”, before dovetailing into a conspiracy theory involving Big Auto and their subliminal marketing campaign using “sexy van stories”
Despite Adult Swim’s micro-sized budgets, Newsreaders never appears cheap or ill conceived. Its creators obviously spent a lot of time crafting parodies of the elements of real life news programs, like the pompous intro music, self aggrandizing hosts who try too hard to relate to the people in their stories, and an on-camera editorial from an elderly commentator complaining about how the present day is awful.
Despite its production value and unrelenting hilarity, Newsreaders is potentially the weakest show in the Adult Swim lineup. This is due to no fault of the creators of the show, but to the very nature of the concept behind Newsreaders itself. Part of what makes Childrens Hospital, NTSF:SD:SUV, and Eagleheart successful is that we as an audience have not seen a great deal of absurdist parodies of medical dramas, action movies, and police procedurals. This is not the case with Newsreaders. For the past decade we’ve seen The Daily Show and The Colbert Report take news parodies to huge heights of success and pop culture awareness. The main challenge for the Newsreaders team is to keep the show from feeling like an extended segment of The Daily Show. Newsreaders does seem to have a plan for this, however, as an extensive cast- many of whom do not appear in the pilot- seems to hint at an expanded focus beyond mocking one-on-one interviews and a single crusading newscaster. Where Newsreaders does have an advantage over Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert is that, unlike those two shows, it in no way has to be tethered to the reality of present day political stories. This leaves Newsreaders with the freedom to take their stories to ridiculously silly heights, like Big Auto being responsible for everything from the Exxon Valdez, wildfires in California, and “several alternative rock festivals”.
Now I realize that last paragraph became a little heavy handed when discussing the inherent shortcomings of news parody in a post-Daily Show television landscape (and it happened again in this sentence just now) so let me wrap up with this. Newsreaders is hilarious. I started laughing in the first thirty seconds and the jokes didn’t stop till the very end. Take twelve minutes and watch this show, it’s definitely worth it.