TV Review: Time Traveling Bong

Published on May 2nd, 2016 in: Comedy, Current Faves, Reviews, TV, TV Reviews |

By Sachin Hingoo

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In a scene at the end of Time Traveling Bong, Ilana Glazer’s Sharee wraps up a bonghit-punctuated journey by stating her discovery of “how shitty the world has been for women forever.” Though this is made really clear as Sharee goes through horrific witch trials before nearly being burned alive in 1600s Salem, is sexually harassed in the 1960s, and is indifferently probed right in the tit in a dystopian future. If Time Traveling Bong can be said to have a point at all (as if it needs one), it’s that Sharee needs to discover the plight of women throughout history in order to see how willingly and thoroughly she’s relinquished her own freedom and sense of agency in her current life.

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In about as big a departure as possible from the Ilana Wexler character from Broad City, Time Traveling Bong’s Sharee is about as repressed as Wexler is liberated. Her devotion to her piggish (in the classical sense), self-obsessed, “All Lives Matter” T-shirt-wearing boyfriend Donnie is proof enough of this. In a lot of ways she’s just as ignorant as Wexler, but there’s a missing disruptiveness that makes Broad City’s Ilana such a fun and compelling character. Sharee, by contrast, is far more strait-laced at the beginning of Time Traveling Bong, and even the growth she undergoes over its three episodes doesn’t put her in the same wild universe that Ilana occupies. This lets Glazer take Sharee in some fun directions, especially with her sexual awakening in prehistoric times in the second episode.

The story of Time Traveling Bong, quite frankly, begins and ends with the title. You know what you’re getting here, and Glazer and fellow Broad City writers Paul W. Downs and Lucia Aniello deliver every bit of it. No one will ever accuse this series of not having frequent enough bonghits or time-bending. When Sharee and cousin Jeff find themselves in possession of the mysterious glass piece, their desire to escape their mundane lives leads them to smoke their way through history.

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Glazer’s ability to evolve Sharee over the course of the series is commendable, and hers is the only one of the two main characters that undergoes any meaningful growth at all, considering that Paul W. Downs’s Jeff only really grows in the sense that he can’t jerk off without porn when the series begins, but—spoiler alert—by the end he does, right when and especially where it counts. Jeff is also pretty different from Downs’s Broad City character Trey, showing a decent amount of range. Where Trey is earnest and confident, Jeff is sarcastic and far more mean-spirited than Trey on his worst day, and is a lot less likeable. Jeff is more of a sounding-board for Sharee than a fully fleshed-out character of his own, but he has a few moments in Time Traveling Bong where he really redeems himself and shines. His treatment in the prehistoric segment and the ’60s segments are both great, and Downs’s natural charm oozes through even Jeff’s most annoying scenes.

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Given that the writing and onscreen chemistry between Glazer and Abbi Jacobson on Broad City is completely different from what she has with Downs, it’s no surprise that Time Traveling Bong has such a different feel from the series that made Ilana famous. Though Downs also writes for Broad City and both projects are stoner comedies at heart, cousins Jeff and Sharee in Time Traveling Bong never quite convince us that they have the same deep connection that Ilana and Abbi do. The two have great banter back and forth, which probably owes much to the honest and blunt (no pun intended) writing style that Glazer has always brought to Broad City, but she’s definitely scaled it back here with a lot more underlying contempt between Jeff and Sharee that Abbi and Ilana don’t have or express. It’s a different dynamic entirely, but the kinds of jokes it inspires are hilarious, though incredibly dark at times.

Time Traveling Bong never concerns itself at all with the “how” of time travel. Sharee and Jeff instinctively thwart the supposed rules about story-ruining things like time paradoxes and other selves, which is where other time-travel shows often trip themselves up. Not bothering with its potential consequences, they pluck slaves from the Jim-Crow-era Southern US and drop them into the 1960s, before realizing that life for black people is no better there and getting them shipped off to Vietnam. Somehow, this dovetails into a plot about Jeff and Sharee finding themselves raising Michael Jackson and giving him the childhood he never had.

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Very much in the vein of Hot Tub Time Machine, another stoner sci-fi success, Time Traveling Bong is a fun self-aware comedy that adds a little social commentary to the formula. It feels, at times, more like a pilot or a proof-of-concept for something larger. That said, Sharee and Jeff ping-ponging through history is easily worth checking out, especially if you need one more hit off that Broad City bong.

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