After solidly tackling the post-apocalyptic thriller with “Day 5,” Rooster Teeth takes a swing at the science-fiction comedy genre with its second, “Crunch Time,” and hits it out of the park once again.
Starring five lovable weirdos as eccentric science students, “Crunch Time” clips along at a breakneck pace, seamlessly weaving wacky gags and colorful characters into its intriguing plot exposition. From the discomfort of an interrogation room, the characters in “Crunch Time” recount the shenanigans that got them handcuffed to a metal desk answering to two steely-faced detectives. (Brett Morrin and “True Detective’s” Michael Hyatt, no less). The motley crew explains the origins of “the brain-frame,” a “machine that allows you to place yourself inside another person’s mind.”
Conner (played by Hollywood’s go-to nerd, “Freaks and Geeks” alum Samm Levine) is the brains behind the brain-frame, whose work is subsidized by his generous (or pushover) friend, a baby-faced trust-fund-baby named Sam (Avery Monsen). After getting dumped by his girlfriend, Hannah (Jessy Hodges), Sam convinces Conner to help him win her back by entering her sub-conscious and making her fall back in love with him, or at least pity him enough to change her mind. Apparently, the dreaming person needs three guides in the brain-frame — for stability. Sam and Conner enlist “creepy lab assistant” Larry (Kirk C. Johnson), who isn’t all that creepy but really loves puppies, and irritatingly confident Berkman (Nicholas Rutherford), a party guy with creative facial hair.
The plan backfires, and when Hannah figures out the deal, she wants in on the action. Shrewd business woman that she is, Hannah proposes the fellas charge money for curated experiences. “If we could offer people an experience they actually wanted, we could change the world,” she pitches, pausing before adding: “And make a shitload of money.” The boys agree, and it’s off to the races. Until the brain-frame creates a black hole that threatens to destroy the earth, of course.
With snappy dialogue and a premise to delight sci-fi newbies and die-hards alike, the twenty-minute episodes of “Crunch Time” fly by as quickly as a good dream. Creators Andrew Disney and Bradley Jackson make use of the dream sequences to play with genre; such as with Hannah’s nightmare, inspired by a fictional horror film “Feliz Navi-Dead,” which stars a chainsaw-wielding Santa Claus. The obligatory sex fantasy finishes too soon (don’t they all?) when Larry’s mistake leaves Berkman with a Ken-doll penis during a foursome. (Berkman corrects the detectives who call it a threesome.)
The dudes are well-defined and relatable, if you relate to lovable nerds, which surely Rooster Teeth subscribers do. Disappointing but never surprising, the show’s one mis-step is Hannah, whose de-facto role as object of desire and voice of reason overshadows any vague character traits Disney and Jackson attempt to give her. Hannah’s predictable hawkish ambition pales in comparison to the originality of puppy-loving Larry, or wise-cracking blowhard Berkman.
Aside from Hannah, the writing in “Crunch Time” is clever and punchy, skewering rich kids and academia with the same aplomb as it presents fictional scientific concepts. In an early scene, Sam and Conner’s fumbling foil, Dean Samuelson (Bill Wise), delivers this zinger with relish: “I have had to cut the gay and lesbian alliance budget in half. Now it’s just the lesbian alliance.”
The repeating gags in “Crunch Time” are just weirdly stupid enough to be hilarious; such as a literal poop sandwich and a cameo by Casper Van Dien from “Starship Troopers.” (Van Dien shows up in Hannah’s sexual fantasy, naturally). In the character of Berkman, Disney and Jackson have created a smart version of Stiffler from “American Pie,” the life of the party you hate to love whom everyone can recognize.
Once again, Rooster Teeth demonstrates why the subscription service is eons ahead of other online production houses; “Crunch Time” could compete with any network sci-fi comedy, but why would it want to try? Like its characters, “Crunch Time” and Rooster Teeth have built something wholly original.
“Crunch Time” premieres Sunday, September 11th exclusively on RoosterTeeth.com.