All three nights of the miniseries were made available ahead of broadcast.
“Time Traveling Bong is so fucking stupid,” Ilana Glazer has said recently of Comedy Central’s new sci-fi stoner miniseries. “But I think it is so good and I love it so much that I’m like ‘it’s smart.'” Leave it to the Broad City co-creator, co-star, and co-writer to encapsulate her new series (created along with star Paul W. Downs and writer/director Lucia Aniello) with all of the low-brow intelligence and brevity that its patently quirky title suggests.
The show – which will unfold over three nights beginning, you guessed it, on 4/20 – is as equally slovenly as that title: the jokes are hit-and-miss, the plot is scatter-brained, and the short three-episode run doesn’t exactly help build a comedic duo as instantly engaging as that of Broad City. Still, in spite of its idiocy and see-what-sticks mentality, when Time Traveling Bong hits, it really hits, nailing the playful banter of Glazer’s previous work with the added bonus of an increasingly bonkers trip down the sci-fi rabbit hole.
That trip starts with a sexually frustrated Jeff (Downs) and his cousin Sharee (Glazer), two low-maintenance New Jersey roommates who spend more time complaining about each other’s lives than having fun together like they did in high school. He thinks the only good thing about 2016 is the HD porn; she gets ready for a trip through space and time – once the titular object is found on the side of the road – by straightening her hair. Given the miniseries’ total 90-minute runtime, it takes less than 6 minutes for that first trip to the past, leaving Jeff and Sharee feeling like abridged versions of potentially more interesting characters.
It’s hard to fault a show called Time Traveling Bong for such shortcuts, though. And it’s progressively harder the more Jeff and Sharee jump back-and-forth through history. The first stop is 1691 Salem, wherein Sharee gets immediately gagged and tortured as a witch, and Jeff trots around as the new town hero.
Some logic is cobbled together for the bong – one puff gets them into the past, one gets them back home – so at least there’s a baseline of coherence before the rules get blown to smithereens along with the era jumping water pipe. But why do they move physically in space from Jersey to Massachusetts in addition to going back in time? If such matters worry you, Time Traveling Bong will most decidedly not be your particular bowl of reefer.
The Salem witch trials detour is just the first in a string of epically screwed-up misadventures the cousins get into, which eventually lead to an orgy with neanderthals, saving slaves from a southern plantation, and the moral ramifications of kidnapping a young Michael Jackson before he gets abused by his father. Most of the tangents stick, slowly unrolling layers of Jeff and Sharee in amusing ways, especially in Glazer’s head-first, when-in-Rome embrace of her fellow cavemen. She wants to stay with the primitive humans and bask in the unpretentious lack of upkeep required of the era, which essentially boils down to not needing to wax or shave.
Glazer is as expectedly energetic as ever, and seeing her change from a somewhat prim Jersey girl to what essentially amounts to Ilana from Broad City, is subtly engaging. Downs is comparably endearing in the leading man role, getting an upgrade from his smaller part on Glazer and Abbi Jacobson’s show. There’s a more logic-minded glint to his character (if you don’t take into account the three laptops ruined by his ejaculate, which is actually a major plot point on this show), but like Broad City, Time Traveling Bong refuses to paint either Jeff or Sharee into particular, cookie-cutter corners. Given the fact they’re stoned all the time, that particular thematic trick has surprisingly relevant narrative appeal this time around.
But it’s that sequence in episode 2, where they land in Gary, Indiana in 1963 and stumble across the Jackson family, that generates the outlandish laughs you expect from such a show. They weigh the pros and cons of kidnapping little Michael, pivoting between leaving him with his family to keep the timeline intact and preserve his music, and saving him to prevent his molestation of hundreds of children (“allegedly,” Jeff adds) at the risk of depriving the world of “Thriller.” The lengths they go to, the subtle digs roped in from Jackson’s history, and the ultimate moral lesson arrived at by the young version of the superstar, is repeatedly hilarious.
It’s also Time Traveling Bong at its creatively heady peak, which regresses slightly in night 3 thanks to a trip to a period that results in another orgy. Although it’s inventively snappy thanks to some dialogue spoken between Jeff and Sharee in the midst of various appendages and sexual favors, it outlines a repetitive rut in a series that had literally the world at its fingertips. It’s the most Time Traveling Bong ever lets the two stop and talk about what’s been going wrong in their lives, and there’s a bit of sweetness uncovered when they realize that just because they’re roommates doesn’t automatically mean they’ve been good friends, or family, to one another.
Don’t worry, though, not long after the two are throwing up into a pair of Grecian troughs, returning Time Traveling Bong to its sweet spot of semi-intelligent, spastic humor and gross-out gags. It largely gets away with the balancing act tiptoed through each episode because of its genuine good spirits about screwing with time, and its somewhat unflinching skewering of everything from gender inequality to armchair activism. When the trio of slaves emerge with Jeff and Sharee in 1963, the two proclaim themselves as “white saviors,” before realizing the issues still running rampant in 2016 and backtracking over themselves by explaining that it’s at least better than the fields of the pre-Civil War south “by a little bit?”
Touchier topics are smacked through with similar gusto, particularly in the way Glazer and Downs have found ways to flip Jeff and Sharee as either the victim or the victor in each time period. After she gets tried as a literal witch in Salem, the next destination has Jeff running for his sanity following a particularly intrusive encounter with a cavewoman (“Can you imagine how terrifying it is to be in a sexual situation where at any moment you could be overpowered?” Jeff asks his cousin, point blank. “As I’m saying it, I hear it.”)
But Time Traveling Bong never feels preachy or motivated by an ulterior motive. It’s not quite as refined as Broad City but, like that show, it largely wins because it finds its own mad method of humor amidst an entirely silly premise. It’s as uninterested in the minutiae of time travel ramifications as Jeff is in masturbating without porn, and there’s an entirely satisfying – if ephemeral – source of entertainment to be found in such low-brow comedy drummed up by such high (pun intended) quality talents.
A premise this diabolically goofy could have warranted a full season, but Time Traveling Bong packs as much giggle-inducing, uncommonly intelligent gags into 90 minutes as it can, to largely entertaining results.