Transferring a concept from one source to another is easy enough but if there's one thing Hollywood should've discovered by now after dozens of failed attempts to remake popular foreign TV shows and movies for American audiences is that, unless the writers resist the temptation to simply reheat and/or repackage, then the comedy and/or cool factor is ultimately lost in the translation.
And if the woefully unfunny first season of HBO's recycled adaptation of the phenomenally funny website Funny or Die is any indication of what a format rather than a foreign remake is like, then perhaps because it is dubbed “the world wide web” after all, it's only logical that the previous lesson should apply to online fare as well.
Given the network’s staggering track record for acclaim, home entertainment sales, awards and a near cult status in terms of its viewership with past hits ranging from The Larry Sanders Show to Sex and the City up through Curb Your Enthusiasm, HBO is the ultimate status symbol for a comedy series.
And needless to say, while the HBO brand and reputation alone offers an amazing advantage for a rookie series, when you add in the site’s enormous built-in fan base, Funny or Die Presents seemed destined to be a hit before the first of ten episodes even aired, which is in stark contrast to the comedic Twitter feed turned panned CBS series $#*! My Dad Says.
Yet even though the (out-of-left-field) People’s Choice winning Twit-com S#*! had one major star going for it in the form of Star Trek icon William Shatner, FOD easily had that beat considering the star wattage and box office receipts of the formerly nicknamed “Frat Pack” comprised of executive producer Will Ferrell and his longtime behind-the-scenes collaborators Adam McKay and Chris Henchy along with their circle of A-list friends.
Unfortunately, the old adage of the bigger you are, the harder you fall turned out to be true in the case of Funny or Die Presents. As opposed to the eponymous voter-run website that promotes or “kills” material ranging on the amount of hilarity served up in YouTube style videos, the HBO version of the concept – by its very nature – never allows us the option to skip or play.
And obviously, the lack of interactivity didn’t worry me in the slightest as I began this two disc set, placing my trust in the fact that after almost five years of watching viewers rate videos online, the “comedy geniuses” would know what works and what doesn’t for a television series that I assumed would be bound to serve up premium funny fodder.
Tragically, the final result couldn’t have been further from the truth as I realized that I could actually count the number of times that Funny or Die Presents made me laugh aloud on a single hand… not just over the course of one episode but rather the entire first disc.
Bringing twelve-year SNL and three-year FOD website veteran writer Andrew Steele aboard to help oversee content, the series itself is made up of either standalone of multiple-part sketches, many of which you can’t help but imagine were probably rejected from SNL for either being too offensive or bizarrely unfunny.
While there are some truly inventive approaches employed to poke fun at foreign policy through the simplified eyes of children via “Playground Politics” or educate viewers about great events in our past as told by heavily inebriated morons in “Drunk History,” some of these repeated skits wear out their welcome and lose their novelty after one or two appearances.
And this bad trend is particularly true for some of FOD’s most repulsive or just plain idiotic shorts such as “Casual Sex,” which follows the adventures of a near full-term pregnant woman who decides she’s going to become promiscuous in the final month before her baby is born and “Sleeping with Celebrities,” which involves grainy faux David Lynch inspired footage of random celebs (like Henchy’s wife Brooke Shields) sleeping.
Of course, both of these ideas may be screamingly funny on paper but when they’re actually carried out and repeated endlessly instead of working in more original material, you can’t help but be extremely disappointed by how much talent was meaninglessly wasted on what should've been a promising series.
While “Playground Politics” is a great exception to this rule… before it grows wearisome, FOD frequently takes an over-the-top, mean-spirited approach as far as children are concerned, which soon crosses the line from humorously taboo-busting to flat-out disturbing.
Ultimately it’s at its best when tackling timely subjects and then throwing away the formulaic map to take so many wrong turns that what started as an infomercial grows into a campaign ad before becoming something completely different altogether.
Yet it mostly feels uninspired and half-baked as FOD often fills their short twenty-two minute time-slot with thinly disguised reinterpretations of material in which some cast-members have starred from The Hangover and beyond as if FOD Presents is like TV’s unaccredited version of the Sundance Institute for Frat Pack projects.
Further proof that just like subtitles, HTML code just doesn’t translate well to television, only time will tell if the weak FOD will improve. In the meantime, I’ll continue to visit FunnyorDie.com for my frequent fix of funny, knowing all the while that I’m always in control to vote a video into getting a second life or by letting it meet an altogether different fate… that hopefully won’t wind up on HBO.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.