While shorter on insights than three half-hour installments of “Broad City,” the major takeaway from a three-part miniseries created by three of its writers pretty much makes up for it: “I really didn’t realize how shitty the world has been for women — forever.”
That’s Ilana Glazer’s character, Sharee, and indeed, throughout each of the seven different time periods explored by two pot-loving cousins (played charmingly by Glazer and “Broad City” co-star Paul W. Downs), women have it pretty damn rough. Of course, this is hardly a revelation to anyone who paid attention in history class, but the sharp observations snuck in as quick asides add up to a broader commentary that gives “Time Traveling Bong” just enough of an edge to make it more than a solid high. It’s a feminist statement with a sneaky smart edge to it.
Wasting no time getting to its titular tease, “Time Traveling Bong” begins with minimal exposition, introducing Sharee and Jeff (Downs) as cousins-turned-roommates. He’s got an addiction to HD Internet porn. She’s dating a married man prone to wearing racially insensitive T-shirts. Neither seem particularly well off, nor do they seem particularly close with the other, but that’s about to change! After a brief fight leads to a bike ride for snacks, the two stumble across — you guessed it! — a bong capable of transporting those who smoke it through time. Could it help them gain some much-needed perspective in their seemingly dreary lives?
Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe…well, don’t do that. Whether you know what happens or not shouldn’t spoil your enjoyment of “Time Traveling Bong.” After all, humor of this genre is so rarely based on surprises, even though a few key events should be kept private for this one. We won’t be spoiling anything (as is standard Indiewire policy), but do know that the message above doesn’t overwhelm any of the classic stoner comedy peppered throughout the 70-minute(ish) miniseries. But it’s not the only progressive element, either.
“Time Traveling Bong,” in a longer format, could serve as an essential update to “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and “Idiocracy,” complete with youthful rebellion and caution toward the future we’re all hurtling toward — be it at time traveling speed or good ‘ol regular mode. Glazer, Downs and co-writer/director Lucia Aniello choose their destinations carefully, even when — narratively speaking — the bong is set to random. The connection of each stop is oppression, be it toward women (which always applies), other races (which could always apply) or humorously turned on a timid, straight white man (as opposed to your typical time-traveling musclemen who have it pretty cushy throughout history).
That being said, the trio of writers keep the story fresh by flipping the script from time to time. While, to make their point, Sharee is often the target of misfortune, they allow her to have some fun specific to her character. Women may not have had it easy in one of the chosen time periods, but because she’s not meant to be simply representative, she finds a way to enjoy herself. Meanwhile, the audience can choose whether to observe the situation through a progressive perspective or coast on laughs fueled by the mild distress of two millennials struggling in yesteryear.
Yet what really stands out by the end of “Time Traveling Bong” is how self-aware the nearly feature-length miniseries is of its place among genres: both stoner comedies and time travel stories. From Cheech & Chong to “Half Baked” to “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,” movies with a heavy high are blanketed by the male perspective. On High Times’ list of the 40 greatest stoner movies, you don’t run into the opposite sex until No. 23, and that’s “Thelma & Louise” — hardly a film often lumped in with “Harold and Kumar” or “Pineapple Express.”
Time travel tales are arguably even more lacking. “Back to the Future,” “Donnie Darko,” “Looper,” “Terminator,” “Bill & Ted” and — the greatest of all time-travel movies — “About Time” dominate the many rankings out there, and those are the more prestigious movies about impossibly bending time and space. “Timecop,” “Army of Darkness,” “Edge of Tomorrow” and “Hot Tub Time Machine” populate the guilty pleasure section. Many of the female-focused efforts are romantic fantasies like “Time Travelers Wife,” “13 Going on 30” or “Somewhere in Time.”
So even while “Time Traveling Bong” may not rank with the elite of its genres’ predecessors, there’s actually nothing quite like it. And there’s something magical about how the slight miniseries still finds a way to come across as ludicrously fun, rather than being weighed down by its overarching commentary. You can come for the high without worry. Nothing will harsh your buzz.
“Time Traveling Bong” airs on Comedy Central starting April 20 at 10:30pm and continues each subsequent evening (April 21 and 22) at the same time. If you like it or even the idea of it, make sure to watch “Catastrophe” on Amazon, as well. It’s delightful.