This Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories review contains spoilers.
Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories season 2 episodes 1 and 2
“You know, I never learned how to play the piano. All I care about are my sweet treats.”
There are few people other than Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim that can tap into a relentless, high-octane weirdness and have it assault you like nothing else. Now, just when you thought it was safe to go to sleep again, this mad duo are back and here to make sure you stay up all night, terrified of what images may plague your dreams. But it’s like a funny terror.
Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories is always at its best when it’s leaning into its especially darker and weirder inclinations. Awesome Show, Great Job! was no stranger to getting surreal and upsetting, but these two really let loose in this anthology series, almost as if that’s part of the joke. “Baklava” for instance, the episode that kicks off the season, is one of the bleakest installments the series has ever delivered. Meanwhile, the following episode, “The Duke,” while still being steeped in sadness and uncomfortable territory, plays much more like the entries from the series that are more interested in making the audience recoil in confusion rather than terror, like the first season’s “The Endorsement.”
Bedtime Stories is still pulling from an impressive stable of guest actors to bring these tales to life. Some of this talent has worked with Tim and Eric before and are always solid in a pinch, like Ray Wise (miss you already, Twin Peaks: The Return!), or others which are new to this black comedy universe, like Rhea Perlman. Tim and Eric usually know when to step into the spotlight or when certain stories would be better if they were behind the camera. Some of the series’ best episodes are installments where the duo are mostly absent. “Baklava” may be all about these weirdos, but “The Duke” is a strong example of when outside talent gets to shine. An episode down the road this season has Will Forte starring, which will hopefully be the greatest thing ever.
“Baklava” tells the story of Barry (Wareheim), a struggling piano salesman who’s trying to be the top dog in the office. But meanwhile, Mr. Crown (Heidecker), his boss, seems to slowly be losing his mind over a recent obsession with baklava. The way that Mr. Crown introduces his employees to the Middle Eastern dessert is almost like a leader inducting people into a cult. Everyone mindlessly bobs around barking the praises of “Baklava!” Seeing Mr. Crown having to deal with this nonsense while he’s actually trying to do his job and pay his debts is played to great effect here. Barry’s trying to do his best but constantly getting sidelined by this obsessive behavior and it builds solid tension throughout the tension. If tension’s not enough for you though, Mr. Crown truly goes overboard when his baklava status is put in jeopardy. There are multiple suicide attempts on the man’s part, as if losing baklava were losing a cherished loved one. He’s getting limbs chopped off in order to sustain his habit (sugar levels), yet somehow Barry’s salesman struggles due to Mr. Crown’s breakdown is even sadder.
For a moment, “Baklava” ends up feeling somewhat similar to the half-hour episode, “Sauce Boy.” The fact that the episode was originally titled “Baklava Guys” might even imply that they were meant to be tonal sequels of sorts. While “Baklava” does deal with familiar territory, Tim’s bizarre performance and the note that the episode ultimately ends on are enough to make this feel different and new.
“The Duke” feels a little more laid back in tone, as Maureen (Rhea Perlman) and Bryan (Jorge Garcia) try to work through their marital problems. Things don’t get any better when the Duke (Ray Wise) enters the picture, only they kind of do. This is an episode that’s all about changing your perspective and learning how to live with a lie that you tell yourself. The unusual dynamic that Maureen, Bryan, and the Duke build for one another is played for laughs and it is certainly funny on some level, but what drives the story forward is just how damn sad it is.
This is a tale about people cutting their loses and giving up ostensibly, in order to have an easier life. The whole thing is also set to the backdrop of casinos and gambling, which makes for a nice flashy atmosphere to play against all of this, too. Also, the idea of a casino that only offers up scratch tickets as its means of gambling (or that there’s some sort of art to it) is something that’s much funnier than it should be. Plus, lots and lots of dad jokes. Pierre would be proud.
Bedtime Stories also makes an art of going down weird, unfulfilled tangents where it’s intentionally choosing not to share information with the audience. For instance, there’s a runner throughout “Baklava” that seems to involve Barry’s daughter being kidnapped and held at some ransom with the fate of the city of Dallas resting on his actions. It’s a story that’s arguably much more gripping and important than the episode we’re actually seeing about piano sales and sweet treats. It’s pushed so far into the background though that by the time things get out control at the end of the episode, you barely remember this crucial detail of Barry’s story. It’s brilliant. Screw Dallas, let’s play with baklava! Touches like that are why I love Bedtime Stories
Another reason to love the show is in the minor details that fill out these characters’ outfits. They’re such meticulous, specific touches that are just perfect to the point that half of the humor is just in how all of these people look or present themselves rather than what’s happening. But at the same time, these still do feel like real people. It’s a delicate balance, but the show finds it. When Tim and Eric are on screen, it’s always a lot of fun to see what sort of spin they’ll be putting on their performance.
This makes for a strong one-two punch return for Bedtime Stories, with these two episodes being a good reflection of the show’s varied sensibilities. These might not be the series’ best installments, but they’re clear evidence that Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim are still having too much fun making this disturbing show. Even when the show is misfiring, I’m still glad that this unconventional nonsense is happening and that it has the proper outlet to feed these urges.
It also looks like the first season’s “Angel Boy” will be receiving a follow-up this year in the form of next week’s “Angel Man,” which is a pretty exciting prospect. Not only was “Angel Boy” a standout entry for Tim and Eric fans, but also the idea of this series expanding previous episodes and returning to some old characters opens up a lot of fun possibilities. This sort of experimentation is exactly what an anthology show of this nature should be doing. Hopefully Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories will continue on for a third season so it can further refine and explore the way that they tell these messed up tales.
“The Duke”: 3/5
Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories airs Sundays at midnight on Adult Swim