Both FX's Married, ending its first season tonight, and Adult Swim's Tim & Eric's Bedtime Stories, beginning its first tonight, are sort of horror-comedy stories, shows that go out of their way to force you to look long and hard at things that might be awkward or unpleasant — or even difficult to watch.
Yet the former has quietly put together a solid season of television that argues well for a second-season renewal, while the latter is just the latest bit of anti-comedic brilliance from two men who've turned late-night television into their own bizarre playground over and over again. Both are acquired tastes, but if you can acquire said tastes, you're going to be happy you found them.
Why Married needs a season two
The big beef against Married when it debuted was that it didn't really do anything different. Its chief theme seemed to be "being married isn't really all that great," and it grounded many of its jokes in husbands who wanted to have sex and wives who wouldn't let them. But for those willing to stick with the material, creator Andrew Gurland and his team revealed quickly that the show's central couple, Russ (Nat Faxon) and Lina (Judy Greer), were still in love, just in the manner of a faded photograph of something once vital and beautiful.
The longer you watched Married, the more it became clear that the most screwed up person in the show's universe was A.J. (Brett Gelman), whose divorce had left him adrift and searching for meaning. Russ and Lina — or, alternately, their friends Jess and Shep (Jenny Slate and Paul Reiser) — might constantly engage in passive-aggression Olympics, but they always had each other to lean on. Even if life hadn't turned out to be everything they had hoped for, it was still a life lived together, and there was a kind of tiny wonder in that. Russ and Lina might have sniped and argued with each other, but in the season's latter half, it became clear that this was because the two of them often wanted to spend time only with each other, rather than with anyone else.
In particular, the show built beautifully to tonight's finale, pushing every major relationship on the show to a crisis point that is resolved in muted, minor fashion in the final episode. Married looked not just at who Russ and Lina were, but at who they had been and all of the decisions they'd made to come to this point. Though both of them felt unfulfilled more often than they felt anything like contentment, the fact that they shared that journey toward disappointment somehow made it more bearable. Married was ultimately a series about compromise, about what it means to build something with somebody else that maybe doesn't totally satisfy either of you entirely but is still better than what you might come up with on your own.
The show's ratings have been fine, though nothing amazing, and it's attracted much less critical acclaim than You're the Worst, with which it shares an hour. This is fitting, as You're the Worst is a better show, but it's not as if that means Married is somehow deeply problematic. It takes time to adjust to its rhythms, but once you're in them, its sleepy, low-key vibe is the perfect cool down after a long week. FX should renew Married mostly because it's proved itself creatively, but it should also renew the show because it's just fun to watch these two characters goof off together.
Why Tim & Eric fans should rejoice
Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim have unexpectedly turned into Hollywood power producers, their production company responsible for two of TV's best comedies in Comedy Central's Nathan For You and Review. But it's been a while since they had their own show popping up on a weekly basis, since Tim & Eric Awesome Show Great Job ended. Tonight's Bedtime Stories debut should sate the pair's cult fan base nicely.
Should you be unaware of who Tim and Eric are, a cursory glance at any of the sketches from Awesome Show will explain their work better than I ever could. They love the aesthetics of low-rent television and direct-to-video movies. In their best sketches, they become essentially confrontational in their comedy, forcing you to watch Paul Rudd dance on a computer screen or a bunch of little girls sing about how all the food is poison and daring you to laugh at something that is not overtly amusing on its face. The awkward straight face becomes the whole joke. This is the world filtered through a strip-mall videographer's lens.
Bedtime Stories actually "improves" those aesthetics, in that the two have moved on from a box of old VHS tapes you might find in a Goodwill to the appearance of recreations from a basic cable true-crime series. Tonight's premiere unfolds with the ruthless efficiency of said footage, only there are no talking heads or voiceover narration to smooth the transitions. The story leaps awkwardly from plot point to plot point, the characters making leaps of reasoning and logic, right past where you'd expect them to.
There's always been an element of the sinister to Tim & Eric's work, but in Bedtime Stories, it tips over into text, in a way that is subtly, unnervingly creepy in between all of the laughter. Next week's episode, for instance, stars Bob Odenkirk as a man who removes people's toes at their request, and both the images of that happening and the whole premise feel like something cooked up in a 4 a.m. dream after a night spent eating too much pizza. Those who don't already like Tim & Eric aren't going to like Bedtime Stories, but those who do are going to find something that's at once in the duo's wheelhouse and strikingly different from the things they've done before.
Married ends its first season tonight on FX at 10 p.m. Eastern. Previous episodes are available for digital purchase and on FX Now.
Bedtime Stories debuts tonight on Adult Swim at 12:15 a.m. Eastern.