Have you heard about Too Many Cooks yet? What are you, not on the Internet? On Friday morning, I woke up, opened Twitter, and saw TV critics and comedy writers acting like the world had fundamentally changed because of an 11-minute sketch that aired on Adult Swim at 4 a.m.
I no longer understand the point of watching, making or writing about TV after seeing Adult Swim's TOO MANY COOKS. https://t.co/ru4BTsbq2z— Andy Greenwald (@andygreenwald) November 7, 2014
Too Many Cooks is making every comedian feel like Salieri in Amadeus.— James Coker (@JamesWCoker) November 7, 2014
Adult Swim has weaponized comedy. It is called Too Many Cooks. And it is mind-blowing. http://t.co/13TfnTZZUB— Justin Ellis (@JustinNXT) November 7, 2014
What is Too Many Cooks? On a surface level, it's a parody of the overlong, cheerful opening credits to classic sitcoms. But it quickly goes in a lot of strange directions. It's the classic anti-comedy premise of taking so long with something that it goes from being funny, to being not very funny, to being boring, to suddenly becoming hilarious again. More than that, it's an excellent piece of non-narrative sketch comedy that sets out boundaries for its own weird reality and then goes about breaking them over and over again. It's very funny, and I'll embed it below so you can check it out for yourself:
But therein lies the problem. Too Many Cooks has been running on Adult Swim for a few days now in their "Infomercials" block at four in the morning when, one imagines, only the most stoned insomniacs are watching television. I think Too Many Cooks (created by writer/director Casper Kelly) is brilliantly done and mind-bendingly strange whenever you watch it. But encountering it on the Internet, through the recommendations of friends, fundamentally changes the experience. When talking to my co-worker Joe Reid about it, he made the most salient point: If you know how long Too Many Cooks is going to run for, half the joke is already ruined.
Kelly seems thrilled at the attention the video is getting online (it's broken past one million views this morning), and he should be—that's the joy of something going viral. And as Vulture editor Joe Adalian pointed out to me, the video did build under-the-radar buzz out by starting out in television's doldrum hours before hitting the Internet.
Online viewing doesn’t ruin the experience of course. There’s still something beautifully audacious about the directions the video goes in, even if you know the premise is mocking '80s sitcoms. And once you've seen it through, watching it again gives you the opportunity to catch all kinds of weird little Easter eggs on the fringes—this is a very meticulously assembled spoof. But I wish it could have taken me utterly by surprise.
That was the magic of Adult Swim when it launched in 2001. It felt like there was something almost dangerous going on when you watched those early episodes of Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Space Ghost Coast to Coast late at night (especially, granted, if you were 14 years old like me). The Internet makes everything more accessible, no matter how weird or marginal, and that's a good thing. But I sometimes find myself longing for the joy of feeling like I was discovering something all on my own.
Adult Swim, to its credit, continues to be a place that encourages truly weird comedy at the most extreme ends of the spectrum for people to discover organically, and that's what's happened here. There's plenty of other programming over there that's worth checking out, like the new season of The Eric Andre Show, a funhouse-mirror inversion of the talk-show format that is hilariously, intentionally abrasive, and jarring. But I hope that whatever Casper Kelly produces next catches me entirely by surprise. Even if it means I'll have to be channel surfing at 4 a.m. once in a while to find it.