This Viceland show is worth your time.

Maybe I’m not following the right people on social media or maybe I just missed the half-life of internet buzz that follows a television show’s broadcast but, from my perspective, not enough Americans seem to be talking about Nirvanna the Band the Show. And baby, that’s a crime. 

Nirvanna the Band the Show is a Canadian sitcom that recently wrapped its eight-episode first season on Viceland. Based on the webseries created by Matt Johnson and Jay McCarrol, each 30-minute episode is a blissfully surreal swath of reality and fiction – concocted by two hyper-energy, pop culture obsessed pranksters. Matt and Jay star as exaggerated versions of themselves – childhood friends who share an apartment and a dream: to play a gig at The Rivoli, a Toronto concert venue whose hipness, from what this clueless Texan can put together, seems to be fading in the rear view mirror of time. One doesn’t need to be well-versed in the Toronto music scene to get the jokes, though – to call Nirvanna the Band, Matt and Jay’s musical act, a band is generous – the two don’t seem to have a single written song, all their energy being spent scheming and dreaming. 

Under the guidance of Spike Jonze, who lest we forget once brought Jackass to an unsuspecting America, Johnson and McCarrol’s new show for Viceland features gonzo stunts that rope in the unsuspecting public, all bookended by hilarious comedy-of-error storylines in which the two blustery and bumbling musicians continue to routinely screw over their shot at fame. 

Whether it’s breaking into the local alt-weekly, crashing a Christmas parade or holding a bank hostage, everything the two does is in service of landing a gig. Everything the filmmakers do, though, walks a really fine line between reality and make-believe. For example, in the episode “The Big Time,” the duo make a movie in order to have it become accepted into Sundance, hoping their fame will help them land the concert gig. In the show, they become minor celebrities after having their cheaply-shot high school violence pic “Operation: Avalanche” play Sundance. In reality, the two did make a movie about a high school shooting and they did have a film called Operation: Avalanche play Sundance – stolen shots, repurposed interviews and a little creative editing turn reality into a whole new narrative for the show’s warped versions of Matt and Jay to bounce through. 

The two filmmakers have previously crossed the US border with their two feature-length films: The Dirties, a mockumentary about two movie-obsessed high school students planning a school shooting that was released by Kevin Smith’s Smodcast Pictures, and Operation: Avalanche, a Lionsgate-distributed mockumentary about the US government’s plot to fake the moon landing. Both films showcased the young filmmaker’s willingness to steal a shot by any means necessary – they gained unprecedented access inside the Johnson Space Center, for example, by pretending to be students filming a documentary for school. As they embarked on their career as guerrilla filmmakers, the two learned a lot about fair use and all other assorted legal matters – knowledge that was well-utilized during the making of Nirvanna the Band the Show

In the first episode, the two decide the best way to get the Rivoli’s attention is to hang a giant banner on the building across the street. That seems to actually happen in real life as the camera catches confused onlookers watching the banner, a goofy Sears-portrait of the two posed together, unfurl down the side of the building. What becomes difficult to discern is how real the events are that follow – the realization that Jay’s penis was visible as it poked out the too-tight leather pants he was wearing or the raging fire that happens as the two try and erase evidence of the giant penis they have unleashed upon the busy Toronto street corner. Truth be told, though – it doesn’t matter. The show isn’t about tricking the public into misbehaving – it’s about watching the show’s stars misbehave and do it in a way that seems impossible to pull off on the show’s micro-budget. 

Another episode features the two filmmakers smuggle a camera into what genuinely seems to be a real-life Thursday night premiere screening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Licensing the Star Wars music is expensive. Smuggling a video camera into a crowded screening of one of the biggest movies of all-time with the purpose of filming the screen and the audience is crazy. Yet they do it. What’s more, they do it in character as Matt, who has gone temporarily blind (the episodes have running continuity!), has Jay loudly and in elaborate detail describe what’s happening on screen. The reactions of the theater management as they kick Matt and Jay out seems to be very real. The Star Wars obsessives who, having had their viewing experience ruined by the two assholes, turn on Matt and Jay in a fight scene that parodies Netflix’s Daredevil series is the road where fantasy diverges from reality. Both are hysterical and the melding of both the prank camera aspects of the show and its running narrative are what makes this show so special.  

As with The Dirties, Nirvanna the Band the Show wears its pop culture references on its sleeves – aping the visual style and art direction of the shows it’s parodying to an impressive degree of detail. It’s one thing for a show to crank out a Home Alone reference – it’s another thing for that show to slavishly capture the show’s shots, music and visual tone in a way that is so subtle, audience members might not even catch it. This isn’t Family Guy – stopping to draw attention to every pop culture reference spewed out. Nirvanna the Band the Show uses its influences as building blocks – stacking, reassembling and repurposing them as if they were just another part of the show’s cinematic language. 

Nirvanna the Band the Show is juvenile, yes – but it’s also fresh in a way that’s both exciting and kind of nerve-wracking. Are you catching all the references or are some flying right over your head because you’re too old? The show is a hodge-podge of references, but even if you don’t catch every single call-back or inside joke crammed into the episodes’ running time, audiences still get their share of frantic plot devices featuring two charming idiots just trying to achieve fame – it’s basically the internet as a television show. 

Viceland has already renewed the show for a few more seasons and Johnson and McCarrol are already deep in production on these new episodes. If you haven’t already taken the time to watch it, take the time now to catch up on the first season and let’s keep a conversation going about this show. Johnson and McCarrol are doing some really exciting things with their projects, whether film or television. If Nirvanna the Band the Show is the project that’s currently got their attention, that means it deserves your attention too.