Because I have the sleeping habits of a 75-year-old golden girl, I rarely stay up past 11:00 pm (sometimes even 9:00 is pushing it). But I’m more than willing to cast aside my senior citizen bedtime if it means that I get to watch The Heart, She Holler—Adult Swim’s latest foray into live-action comedy. This twisted six-part miniseries, starring Patton Oswalt and Bob’s Burgers’ Kristen Schaal, is a hodgepodge of Lynchian surrealism, Southern Gothic melodrama, and absurdist humor. Although Adult Swim is known for its incendiary programming, The Heart, She Holler, which first aired earlier this month, is arguably the most subversive and definitely the most disturbingly funny live-action comedy currently on the network (and who would expect anything less from a show produced by PFFR, the company behind Wonder Showzen?).
The inbred, redneck Heartshe clan is the family at the center of the show. The first episode opens with recently deceased “Boss” Hoss Heartshe—patriarch of Heartshe Holler—bequeathing the town and his fortune to his secret son Hurlan (Oswalt) via video will. Hoss’ “only child,” Hurshe (Schaal), and his “other only child,” Hambrosia (Heather Lawless), are none too thrilled by this slight and will do anything to gain control of the Holler. From here, things get weird. Really weird. Amongst the weirdness: a penis transplant, a pretty explicit brother-sister dalliance that results in a 10-year pregnancy, and a wedding between a man and a glory hole. What elevates these moments from offensive or just plain dumb to hilarious is obviously execution. The writing is droll, boasting memorable tidbits like, “you have always been more than just a henchman to me, you are more like a hench-son” and the performances, all over-the-top, are tempered by the immense amount comedic skill that all of these actors have. (I don’t know if they give out Emmys to actors who star in shows that are less than 12 minutes long, but if they do, Jonathan Hadary deserves a nomination, at the very least, for his portrayal of Hoss. The rise and fall of his voice, his eerie smirk and laugh. The man is beyond talented.)
This being said, I have to confess that I was a bit horrified by this show when I first saw it and very literally stared at the TV screen in disbelief. Strangely though, I wasn’t as horrified by the content as I was by my involuntary reaction to it: I giggled. Somehow the outlandish subject matter, as unsettling as it tends to be, is riveting. Sure, you might need to devote some time to deep introspection when you find yourself chuckling after an incest reference but this show is funny, particularly during its most insane moments, and its writers almost seem to be daring you not to laugh.
So many of Adult Swim’s other live-action series—comedies like Childrens Hospital or NTSF: SD: SUV— are stalled at absurd. That is to say, the writers of these shows seem to be satisfied with jokes that are strange or nonsensical or slightly off kilter for the sake of being strange, nonsensical, and slightly off kilter. There actually isn’t anything wrong with this kind of humor but it also isn’t terribly engaging. What I appreciate most about The Heart, She Holler is that even though it is absurd, it’s almost impossible to have a passive response to it. The show challenges you. I think it’s brilliant but could easily see someone else finding it utterly repulsive (jokes about Bible sex, yes, that’s sex with a Bible, aren’t for everyone). Whether it’s your cup of tea or not, there’s something admirable about a show that refuses to water down its humor, totally disregarding quaintness or accessibility.
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