BEEF HOUSE is pretty much exactly what you would expect if Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim created a weekly multi-cam sitcom: wry, winking awareness of the format crossed with plenty of raucous, sophomoric, scatological, semi-professional hijinks. Tim and Eric have become increasingly skilled at satirizing the awkward, formulaic rhythms of venerated television formats, and this one is no different. Meanwhile, the pair continue to evolve both as storytellers and actors as they switch gears between their own projects and others, lending unexpected dimensionality to material that they might have previously tackled more superficially.
Thus far, there isn’t an explanation for its set-up - Tim and three of his buddies (TIM & ERIC AWESOME SHOW alums Ron Auster, Ben Hur and Tennessee Luke) live in a house with Eric and his wife Megan (Jamie-Lynn Sigler). But given the non-sequitur style of the duo’s work, who needs one? In Episode 1, “Army Buddy Brad,” Tim’s pal from the service (Michael Bowen) comes to visit just as Eric is planning his annual Easter egg hunt, wreaking havoc when Tim declares the veteran his Best Friend, and Megan recognizes Brad as her high school boyfriend. In Episode 2, “Prunes,” Tim’s wrestling with some painful constipation when their comely neighbor Lana invites him over for a hot tub hangout, forcing the gang to improvise a solution that will save him from releasing his bowels during his date.
Even if the reasoning is irrelevant, the show inspires so many questions - and so many that apply to the creativity of Tim and Eric as they assembled this laundry list of sitcom clichés into an unwieldy, only slightly understated parody (by the standards of the format). Heidecker as a “laid-back rock-and-roll slacker”? Wareheim as a “high-strung stay-at-home husband”? And so on. We’ve seen these character types on real series like TWO AND A HALF MEN, KING OF QUEENS and others. Performed by these two, it’s fascinating how these ideas feel familiar but slightly canted - they’re too old, too weird, and make wonderfully little sense. And that doesn’t even include the three oddballs who evidently also live with Tim, Eric and Megan.
Inviting “legitimate” comedians and character actors to co-star in episodes is commonplace for Tim and Eric, and thus far their casting choices have been spot-on. Bowen, for example, is wildly too old to be Heidecker’s “military buddy,” much less Megan’s high school sweetheart. But that discordant casting choice both parodies the stunt/ celeb casting of more ordinary sitcoms, and keeps the atmosphere of the show ever so slightly off.
Sigler seems delightfully lost in every scene in which she appears, and that is a big plus. As the show’s “hot young wife” - its Leah Remini - she juggles cheerful incredulity and a serene acceptance of this group of guys’ misbehavior. From one episode to the next, it seems as if the only direction she received was to react with absolute honesty to whatever happens in the plot - a vivid juxtaposition to the winking acceptance of hijinks that otherwise takes place. As the series continues, her troubled relationship with Eric takes on a parallel narrative we only catch at the end or beginning as it deepens, and darkens; somewhere there’s a domestic drama unfolding about Megan, the overworked police detective, and her neutered house husband, but here it’s a sly acknowledgment of the encroaching reality that sitcoms carefully circumnavigate.
Broadcasting on Adult Swim as so many of their other series have gives Tim and Eric license to get slightly raunchier than most sitcoms, and even after dealing with, say, a highly stylized battlefield flashback or a blast of diarrhea covering the cast and set, it’s sometimes still jarring to hear the actors say “holy shit” or use profanity. Unexpectedly, the choice makes the show feel a bit more realistic rather than less, as their material tends to skew. But Heidecker and Wareheim are deconstructing the sitcom format as they play with it, which allows them to use familiar concepts - an unexpected, disruptive guest, or an ailment that jeopardizes a long-sought romantic or professional opportunity - while also, you know, blasting the set with a fire hose of diarrhea.
Subsequent episodes develop the characters further while testing the boundaries of sitcom-level humor with madcap schemes that veer into explosive gore and outright weirdness. In “Boro,” Tim decides to teach some discipline to the son of a family friend, but not before the boy repeatedly stabs him with a switchblade, splattering blood everywhere. And in “Beaver in the Beef House,” a rodent infests the walls of the house, leading the Beef Boys to a plan involving Ben Hur, dressed like a beaver as Tim, struggling with self-confidence (and a possible addiction to performance-enhancing drugs), takes aim with a dart to disable the creature before mating with their fellow Beef Boy.
Even the title of the show is at once extremely specific, kinda gross, and just ambiguous enough to keep people guessing (and Tim and Eric utilize its potential meanings in different, effective ways). But after transforming amateur cable-access programming into a canvas for abstract, brilliant comedy sketches and a science show into an awkward character study, their sense of how both to lean into a format and break it into pieces is sharper than ever. Adding another winner to Heidecker and Wareheim’s growing collection of inventive, unpredictable series, BEEF HOUSE is funny whether you’re laughing at or with it.