Every Sunday, we pick a new episode of the week. It could be good. It could be bad. It will always be interesting. You can read the archives here. The episode of the week for April 17 through April 23 is Time Traveling Bong, a TV movie slash miniseries event from Comedy Central.
Time Traveling Bong features some of the most purely weird moments to air on TV this year.
This is partly by design — it is called Time Traveling Bong, after all — and partly because it often loses the thread and casts around for something ridiculous to do. But as a whole, Time Traveling Bong is still one of Comedy Central's more surreal experiments — which is saying something, given the network's history of catering to comedy's more beloved weirdos.
The network aired three "episodes" (each 22 minutes long) of Time Traveling Bong — created and written by Broad City's Ilana Glazer, Paul Downs, and Lucia Aniello —beginning on April 20, i.e., 4/20.
The "episodes" appellation is misleading. Really, this is more of a TV movie broken into pieces. It follows the often horrifying mishaps of New Jersey burnouts Sharee (Glazer) and Jeff (Downs), who discover a time traveling bong (you get it), only to break it the second they travel back to the Salem witch trials. Thus, Jeff and Sharee doom themselves to bouncing around the time continuum until the broken bong eventually spits them back out in 2016.
So, yes: Time Traveling Bong is exactly as weird as it sounds. Sometimes it's perfectly joyful and delirious; other times, it's scattered in the way that probably just sounded good while you were stoned.
The trippiest parts of Time Traveling Bong have nothing to do with weed
Even if it couldn't always say so, Comedy Central has always appreciated its stoned audience. The channel lets people laugh and turn their brains off for a while, whether at The Daily Show, Chappelle's Show, Upright Citizens Brigade, or one of seemingly thousands of standup specials. In 2011, the "television for stoners, but let's keep that between us" baton was passed to the slacker bros of Workaholics, which then gave up its reign when Broad City debuted in 2014.
Glazer and co-creator Abbi Jacobson's absurdist take on being a 20-something in New York is laced with weed; most of the duo's adventures emerge from puffs of smoke and ambling conversations about nothing in particular. Spinning off from Broad City — a network favorite — into a project that similarly plays into stoner culture makes perfect sense. Letting a show called "Time Traveling Bong" premiere on 4/20 is as overt an embrace of Comedy Central's stoned viewership as it gets.
But as David Sims points out at the Atlantic, marijuana itself only has a supporting role in Time Traveling Bong. Jeff and Sharee have some high moments of perfect bewilderment, but most of the jokes aim squarely at time travel tropes rather than smoking pot. The miniseries does nothing to mimic the sensation of being high, as overt stoner movies like Dazed and Confused, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, and Smiley Face do.
Yes, Jeff and Sharee are slackers. But after they smoke themselves back in time, they don't smoke again until it's time to go to a new period. In between taking hits from the time traveling bong, Time Traveling Bong ditches stoned humor for surreal sketches about time travel. Instead of leaning into the expected slacker jokes, the special becomes about what makes each time period they visit uniquely great and awful, all at once.
Moral of the story is: the past sucks.
If you've ever said that you wish you were "born in a different era," Time Traveling Bong has some bad news for you.
The second Jeff and Sharee land in the middle of the Salem witch trials, it's clear that this isn't going to go the way they — or we, the viewers — might have anticipated. While the villagers sweep Jeff away to be celebrated as a hero, Sharee gets branded a witch, and is brutally tortured in the name of "science," while Jeff's off getting drunk with the locals.
The two quickly realize that Sharee gets the raw end of the deal in just about every time period they visit (with an orgiastic visit to the prehistoric standing as a notable exception). Of course Jeff would have an easier time than Sharee; he's not a woman.
Time Traveling Bong is relentless about pointing out every time period's rampant sexism, laughing to keep from spitting with rage.
It makes incremental steps toward doing the same with racism. For instance, Jeff and Sharee land in the middle of a cotton field in the pre-Civil War United States and "rescue" some slaves by bringing them forward in time to 1963 Indiana, where they quickly realize the slaves aren't that much better off, anyway.
But the moments confronting racism are more punchlines than real threads, a fact Time Traveling Bong dryly addresses when Jeff and Sharee land in that cotton field and immediately wince as if to say, "Oof, we're seriously doing this?"
The point the miniseries makes, over and over again, is that every time period before our current one is hot garbage. Also, as they discover the one time they catapult themselves ahead, the future is probably going to be literal hot garbage. And no one — not even Jersey mallrats — wants to live in hot garbage.
You can feel Time Traveling Bong straining at the edges to come up with more to say than its one central gag, which makes more sense when you realize the concept came from a CollegeHumor sketch — also written by Downs and Aniello — that was under two minutes long.
The 60-minute version has more room to go in bizarre directions, like, say, Jeff and Sharee kidnapping a tiny Michael Jackson to try to give him the childhood he never had. But having more running time to time travel reveals there's only so much you can do with the observation that things were worse in a lot of ways in bygone eras.
The point's made after the first couple rounds. From there, Jeff and Sharee's nightmarish exploits in the past are just variations on the same theme.
If a Disney Channel Original Movie fell through the looking glass, it would become Time Traveling Bong
But even though you can get tired of watching the same kind of sketch play out, it's hard not to become invested in the outcome. It's structured like an adventure movie; you know they'll end up back in 2016 eventually, but first, a wacky journey!
While I was watching Time Traveling Bong, I kept getting the feeling like I had seen something like it before. By the third time Jeff and Sharee smoked themselves through a time wormhole and/or Windows 95 screensaver, it clicked.
Time Traveling Bong is what would happen if a pair of narcissistic stoners got sucked into a Disney Channel Original Movie, but instead of performing sporadic musical numbers, they have orgies.
Disney's made-for-TV movies in the 1990s and 2000s were loud, aggressively colorful, and obsessed with transformations and the new millennium.
Even if they weren't all overtly futuristic takes like Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century, most Disney Channel movies focused on promising that overlooked teens would get a chance to do something extraordinary (usually involving beating someone in a singing competition). The sets were cheap, the kids were scrappy, and the results were always amazing.
Time Traveling Bong — directed by Aniello — looks just like one of these coming-of-age movies, but instead of two plucky teens, the protagonists are two dirtbags who never had one of those Disney-esque epiphanies about their potential in their teens. The "something extraordinary" is forced on them, to catastrophic affect.
So even though you keep waiting for Jeff and Sharee to have a moment when they figure it all out and become better people, the only realization they have is that they not only hate the past, but really, truly suck at traveling in it. We definitely didn't need 60 full minutes for the miniseries to sell us on that point, but then again, it makes some sense that Time Traveling Bong's perception of time would be a little fuzzy.