Judge Patrick Bromley wonders why there aren't more horror sitcoms—just imagine Laverne and Pinhead.
Funny until someone loses a head.
FEARnet gets its first sitcom, courtesy of Hatchet director Adam Green.
Facts of the Case
Horror filmmakers Adam Green (director of Hatchet, Hatchet II, and Frozen) and Joe Lynch (director of Wrong Turn 2: Dead End) play Adam and Joe, respectively, minimum wage hosts of a cable access horror showcase in the small Massachusetts town of Holliston who are just barely scraping by as they attempt to get their hockey-based horror movie, "Shinpads," off the ground. Their love lives are often just as disastrous as their professional lives—well, Adam's is anyway. While Joe is in a loving and committed relationship with his oddball girlfriend Laura (Laura Ortiz, The Hills Have Eyes), Adam still pines away for his ex-girlfriend Corrie (Corrie English, Runaway Jury), an aspiring musician who has just come back to town and wants to remain "just friends." Over the course of the first season, Adam and Joe will hire a hooker to pose as Adam's new girlfriend, steal and lose an expensive camera from work, get sprayed by a skunk, attend a horror convention trying to get their script read and rub elbows with several members of the horror community (including John Landis, Danielle Harris and Kane Hodder), take in Candyman star Tony Todd as a houseguest and hire a makeup artist who may or may not be crazy. The show also stars Dee Snider as the boys' sexually ambiguous boss who sings in a Van Halen cover band and Oderus Urungus (a.k.a. Dave Brockie) of the band GWAR as Adam's imaginary friend who offers questionable advice.
I'm a big fan of horror filmmakers Adam Green and Joe Lynch—not just of their work, but of them as people. They're likable, passionate, approachable guys who are fun to hang out with (I say this having never hung out with them, lest there be any confusion). It's that "hangout" quality that made me enjoy the time spent with Holliston, the sitcom which Green created, writes, directs and stars on opposite Lynch, despite the fact that the show has a lot of problems.
Green originally conceived and pitched Holliston to UPN (back when it was called Coffee and Donuts), and the network quickly "noted" it to death, taking out anything and everything that gave it personality before it got put on the back burner and eventually died. That wound up being the best possible scenario, since if it had gone to series there's a good chance Green wouldn't have gone on to direct his four feature films (and say what you will about Green's filmography—the Hatchet series in particular has its detractors—but he's clearly a director with talent) and that the things about the current incarnation of the show that do work would be missing. FEARnet hyped the series as the "first horror sitcom" around its premiere, and while that's not entirely accurate, it does speak to some of Holliston's charm. Green and Lynch are guys who love horror, so beyond just the horror-host trappings of the premise, the series is filled with references to tons of horror movies, many of which are lovingly recreated with low-fi practical effects (there are exploding heads from Scanners, face peeling from Poltergeist, etc.). It's a show that rewards the viewer for being a horror movie fan.
That's also part of the problem, because beyond horror movie fans, I'm not sure there's a big audience for Holliston. Green has very deliberately set out to make a traditional three-camera sitcom complete with obnoxious, intrusive laugh track, and he does it pretty well. Maybe too well, because a lot of the show's jokes and rhythms feel like they belong on UPN in the early 2000s (when the show was originally meant to air). Green also seems to want to subvert the conventions of the sitcom—I couldn't determine after six episodes if that laugh track is meant to be sincere or ironic—and so the show is left in the uncomfortable position of trying to make fun of the thing but also be the thing. All of the performers are clearly enthusiastic and has a great deal of chemistry with one another, but sometimes are cut off at the knees by jokes that don't land and a format that's too constraining. (Louis C.K. tried to do a similar thing a couple of years ago with Lucky Louie on HBO and it didn't work then, either. If that guy can't make it work, I'm not sure anyone can.) Going forward, it would be great if Green didn't feel so tied to the traditions of situation comedy and could allow Holliston to become more of its own thing. It's halfway there now.
The six Season One episodes are presented on a single Blu-ray in their original 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio and look really excellent in HD. Though not a visually dynamic series, the 1080p transfer offers rich, vibrant colors and a lot of nice fine detail. It looks, in a word, great. The lossless 5.1 master audio track does a good job balancing the dialogue with the laugh track (and avoids the problem of so many sitcoms where the title song is way too loud in comparison to the show audio), but not much more. There's some nice moments of dimensionality, but this is a sitcom and doesn't reach beyond the usual limitations of the genre.
A commentary track accompanies every episode, and, as a fan of Green and Lynch, I enjoyed the commentaries as much (or more) than the show. They're joined by co-stars Corrie English and Laura Ortiz for six chatty, informative conversations about the show's origins and production, giving a good overview into what it was like to make the show and what Green's intentions were. More than anything, though, it's just fun to hang out with four friends who are all enthusiastic about their work. A few deleted scenes have been included, one of which offers an alternate ending for episode four in case that wound up being the last show. There is a 20-minute promotional featurette that ran on FEARnet, a collection of brief behind-the-scenes pieces and a group of fake promo featurettes (called "Road to Holliston") the cover the cast's screen tests, makeup tests and the show pitch. They're very amusing. A good blooper reel rounds out the strong special features section.
FEARnet announced second season of Holliston after just a few episodes of Season One had aired, so we're in for more of the show sometime next year. Now that Green and company have found their footing, I have hopes that the show fixes some of its flaws and continues to gel into something more cohesive. Green has said that the new episodes will be the more traditional sitcom length of about 22 minutes per episode, which should actually go a long way towards making Holliston a tighter, better show. I'll continue to watch because I'm pulling for everyone involved and because I respect what they're trying to accomplish, but I'd be lying if I said the show isn't a mixed bag.
A somewhat reluctant not guilty. Here's hoping things improve in Season Two.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
Review content copyright © 2012 Patrick Bromley; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.