“Tim and Eric” and American consumerism

It’s really easy to discredit “Tim and Eric’s Excellent Show: Great Job!” as a tasteless stoner comedy that rightfully deserved its limited success. However, as an avid fan of the show, I can attest that Eric Wareheim and Tim Heidecker are wittier that many of their critics give them credit for.

Their show speaks loads about the weird, bland and unexceptional aspects of post-9/11 consumerism that leave many of us with this unexplainable sense of boredom and depression as we fill our lives with cheap electronics in the place of close personal relationships, deep conversations and books.

For those who are not familiar, “Tim and Eric’s Excellent Show: Great Job!” is a sketch comedy show that covers topics largely dealing with post-9/11 consumerism. Many of their sketches are commercials for fictional products made by Cinco Manufacturing, which is a satirical stand-in for any major software, appliance or pharmaceutical company whose advertisements you’d see on cable television.

One such example is a commercial for a fictional children’s toy called the “I Jammer and E Bump.” It’s a brightly colored plastic box that emits ultra-deep sound waves that induce seizures in children. The children in the commercial develop an addiction to the product, which is sustained by an oatmeal-like substance called “o-hungee.” “It’s real food!” the narrator of the commercials says. It’s fast, difficult to follow and doesn’t really explain why somebody should by the product.

What makes this an amazing skit is that the commercial perfectly captures the thoughtless and over-stimulating nature of children’s toy commercials that are rarely covered in other comedy shows. Additionally, mock-commercials are popular in many sketch comedy shows, but “Tim And Eric” seems to capture the nuances of early 2000s consumerism that other sketch comedy shows just don’t seem to get quite right.

As a result, you can’t exactly articulate what makes “Tim and Eric’s” mock-commercials so spot on. They just are. You want to run and tell your friend why it’s hilarious but, after thinking think about it too hard, you realize that the show has captured something we all recognize but is also so nuanced and specific that we ourselves can’t describe it.

Another great example is a skit called “The Universe,” a satire of Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos.” The skit features Wareheim and Heidecker in black turtlenecks discussing the nature of the cosmos. “If you take the universe and you stretch it out and put it into a tube,” Wareheim stutters, “You’d get a tube that’s two times the length of the univer… well… you wouldn’t want to put it in a tube.”

Accompanying the line is this tacky little diagram of a galaxy being rolled into a green tube, labeled “2x Universe.” Further on in the skit, Wareheim begins to explain that his career involves shining a flashlight in his neighbor’s child’s bedroom to teach him about the cosmos.

The skit is a commentary on the various shows on television that are dedicated to explaining complex concepts in theoretical physics to a primetime viewing audience. There have been many shows that feature tantalizing narrators explaining aspects of the universe, like black holes and galaxies, with outlandishly eye-catching 3-D graphics. While we often feel more empowered and educated when we watch these shows, Eric Wareheim and Tim Heidecker are bold enough to criticize people like Carl Sagan and Neil DeGrasse Tyson for coming up with overly simplistic analogies to explain how the universe works.

What’s incredible about the show is that watching it is akin to enlightenment in the digital age. “Tim and Eric’s Excellent Show: Great Job!” makes us more empowered and informed members of our society by pointing out the absurdity of American consumerism. What makes them so special is their ability to pull apart ordinary snapshots of American culture and reassemble them in a way that points out the most disturbing and unexceptional aspects of our lifestyles.

There is, as the show points out, a very repressed sense of dissatisfaction with life in the digital age. American consumerism constantly reinforces the notion that we aren’t satisfied. Commercials advertise ways to get more money, lose more weight and buy an even bigger house; they slowly eat away at our spirit over time. “Tim and Eric” pulls out the nuanced aspects of consumerism that reinforce these feelings, and makes us confront them head on with brutal honesty.

“Tim and Eric” is a mirror that reflects our most unflattering details. However, being able to recognize those ugly, unappealing aspects of ourselves and our culture is cathartic. Watching the show makes us more sensitive to this reinforced message of dissatisfaction and makes us more immune. It makes us recognize when we’re bait for the next big consumer trend that probably won’t leave us better off than before. While it does make us more cynical about consumerism, it’s a kind of uplifting cynicism. It’s making us cynical about something that we really ought to not be so gung-ho about in the first place.

Fans of the show can point out a tacky Lipozene commercial or the next lame kitchen appliance and grin quietly to themselves as they think, “Wow—this is right out of an episode of ’Tim and Eric’!” They can crack up at this over-stimulating world we live in and point out the absurdities of our consumer culture that “Tim and Eric” so brilliantly conveys.