“Weed is magical.”
So said Ilana Glazer said at the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of “Time Traveling Bong.” The three-part Comedy Central miniseries takes that statement literally: Two cousins, Sharee (Glazer) and Jeff (Paul W. Downs) find a mysterious bong that allows them to travel to different time periods whenever they smoke up. It’s a bulletproof premise, and Glazer says it was born out of a (stoned) conversation about “old New York, before the sewer system was invented and it was so fucking disgusting” and how terrible it would be to go back to that time period.
“Imagine if you were stoned and experiencing that,” Downs added. “It would be so intense. It would be horrible.” From there, they made a one-off video and, as they kept hanging out together, they kept having more and more time travel ideas. According to director Lucia Aniello, eventually “it got to a point where we were like, let’s see what we can do with this because it feels like there’s a lot of fun stuff we’d love to explore.”
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So much fun stuff, in fact, that some of it got left on the cutting room floor. For example, a plot that involved the cousins time traveling to Yale and getting Bill Clinton so high that he forgets about his first date with Hillary, prompting her to show up and realize “Oh, you’re not for me.” Other scrapped plots included making Beethoven deaf, starting the Great Chicago Fire, and, as Glazer eloquently put it, “holocaust stuff.” But what they kept in the script is pure gold.
“Time Traveling Bong,” which premieres April 20 (4/20, naturally), finds the cousins traveling everywhere from the Salem Witch Trials to 1963, where they kidnap a young Michael Jackson. Things get hairy when they end up on a plantation with slaves, and their attempt to free them doesn’t go so well. The writers are certainly aware of thinkpiece culture — which they brought up during the after-premiere discussion, as well as remarking on “academic readings” of Broad City that “give [us] a little more credit than [we] deserve” — but they made sure to make Sharee and Jeff’s cluelessness the butt of the jokes. Glazer, Downs and Aniello are all impressively self-aware, and it shows when they deal with dicey subjects related to racism and sexism.
Although the ultimate goal of “Time Traveling Bong” is to make audiences laugh, the writers do sneak in some smart commentary. “If you are a woman who was to time travel — or anybody essentially that is not a white man — you are probably not going to have the best time,” Aniello said. “It was important that we try to acknowledge that.” Sexism abounds in just about every time period, and even Sharee’s present-day boyfriend treats her badly.
Sharee herself is far from Glazer’s “Broad City” character — and not just because of the stick straight hair that is jarring to see on Glazer. Sharee lacks the confidence of Ilana, isn’t as clever and at first isn’t even into the idea of time traveling while high. On “Broad City,” Ilana would certainly be game.
But this isn’t “Broad City,” though the high absurdity is certainly familiar. Instead, it’s essentially a 70-minute movie, one that was shot in 12 days and that went from pre- to post-production in just three months. It’s “prestige comedy,” Glazer said. “It’s Comedy Central’s ‘O.J.,’” she added, referring to FX’s hit series “The People vs. O.J. Simpson.” (She is also quickly added, “‘Time Traveling Bong’ is so fucking stupid.”)
At the end of the day, however, Glazer, Downs, and Aniello are quick to remind viewers that, first and foremost, their goal is to be funny. Sure, there might be thinkpieces or high-brow critical readings of a series that hinges entirely on two stoners doing bong hits, but as Downs puts it, “In the end, we’re just trying to be funny.” Anything else is just a bonus.
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