Kroll Show is one of many examples of a television program and its creators believing its own hype. However, with very few exceptions, Comedy Central’s Nick Kroll vehicle seems to be more of an experiment in being unfunny than at actual humor.
We all have our own tight circle of friends with our own inside jokes and repeated one-liners that make every one of us laugh. However, if one were to repeat those lines and jokes outside of that circle, most people will simply stare at him in confusion, or perhaps react as if they are witnessing the chest burster scene from Alien. The cast and crew of Kroll Show appears to be made up entirely of Kroll’s small circle of friends who think that he is both funny and some sort of comic chameleon with a gift for morphing into various characters.
Although Kroll may be the funniest guy in his circle of friends, and perhaps even the best actor, he is neither funny nor a good actor in his namesake “comedy” program. To be fair, Kroll does have a knack for the absurd and surreal, which can, in skilled hands, lead to a great deal of comedy. Instead of going anywhere, however, Kroll’s surreal absurdity just sits there and screams “Hey, look, I’m surreal and absurd like Monty Python and The Kids in the Hall! Are you laughing yet? Hang on — I’ll dress like a woman, then you’ll think I’m funny.”
In our own circles of friends, we also have that one really unfunny friend who tries to make the rest of us laugh by repeating the funny parts of a show. Watching Kroll Show feels as if it has been completely filtered through your least funny friend. Virtually every single sketch has the potential to be hilarious, but falls far short of the proverbial mark in execution. Most sketches are about as funny as a broken ankle, leaving the viewer more bored than they’ve ever been outside of a math class.
While Kroll and company employ skillful camera-work and editing to make many of the (oft recurring) sketches emulate the current crop of fly-on-the-wall TV reality shows, many of the “jokes” that are used therein would only be funny if they were, in fact, reality. Watching a comedy troupe come up with these as fictional moments may inspire a nod, but hardly the guffaws that the group clearly feels that it deserves.
As for the hype surrounding Kroll’s transformations into other characters: this is, in fact, just hype. Each of his characters are so identical aside from the occasional wig and facial hair change that one never forgets that one is simply watching him with the same five limited facial expressions he exclusively employs. Even the voices are virtually identical.
Case in point: In one of the long-running spoofs of the fly-on-the-wall insider reality shows focusing on wealthy families, Kroll’s pet plastic surgeon character “Dr. Armond” is ousted from his home, and a 17 year old stoner named C-Zar (also Kroll) invades the house as a new best friend for Armond’s son and love interest for Armond’s wife. However, C-Zar looks and sounds so incredibly much like the doctor that it’s incredibly obvious that this character is merely Armond in disguise attempting to get his family back. That setup might have been funny, except for the fact that the mostly one-note Kroll truly intended these to be separate characters, the main difference being that one character is somewhat more lively, uses more hipster slang, and wears a lip ring. Virtually everything else about the two characters is identical, a fate shared by most other inventions on this program. Not even daylight can shine through the space between most of them.
Sketches that come close to success — while never quite crossing the finish line — include a Chik-Fil-A spoof commercial in which the chain’s biggest fans have to hide their love for the food in light of the organization’s politics. Here Kroll starts a prank, such as dine-and-dash, and the scene flips to an America’s Most Wanted-style investigation of said prank and “Can I finish?” chatter, a spoof of news programs on which the pundits talk over each other.
The majority of the sketches, however, fall flatter than a tortilla beneath a steam roller. “Too Much Tuna” is a recurring bit in which two old men (Kroll and John Mulaney) order a sandwich for a friend who discovers said sandwich contains… copious amounts of tuna. Some might say absurd; to this critic, it’s simply not funny. “PubLIZity” is a recurring reality TV spoof in which two women named Liz (Jenny Slate and Kroll, using two of his five facial expressions for some serious variety) run an ineffectual public relations business and whine about everything. Is there potential here? Yes. Is it funny? Not really. Then there’s “Rich Dicks”, in which two rich guys (John Daly and Kroll acting like Kroll) are wealthy and spoiled, well, dicks, who act like wealthy and spoiled dicks to everyone they meet… without being funny.
Often, characters from these sketches cross over and meet each other, which should be a lot of fun for the show’s actual fans. Further, many of these recurring sketches do tend to grow on the viewer, at least to the point that viewers might wonder what these characters are going to do next, not to the point that the characters are endearing or particularly funny. Each episode begins with a bespectacled Kroll performing a bit of deadpan from his standup act that seems to truly amuse Kroll, if no one else. This is, in fact, the problem with the entire show. while most of the sketches do employ absurdity and deadpan to hopefully set the audience on the edge of hysterics, the act of being absurd and deadpan is not, in itself, funny. There must be some substance and payoff for laughter to take place. Chappelle’s Show, which Kroll wrote for, got this formula right. Kroll’s own program seems to be wrapped up in the fundamentals of what they are trying to do and never quite get to the point that they are truly funny. Sadly, the most clever and interesting thing about seasons one or two is the credit sequence.
The 2014 release of Kroll Show’s first and second seasons — the third and final season kicks off in January 2015 — contains select audio commentaries, music videos and other extras such as “Kroll Karaoke”, “PubLIZity Interview”, and “Uncut Armond Trial”. It is difficult to say who these extras would truly appeal to such that they would be willing to fork over the $24.99 retail price for this triple DVD set, considering that nearly every episode can be watched online for free.