Smashing Pumpkins, Senior Benjamin, and Brother Nero

In art as in baking I have always subscribed to the concept of “appreciate the effort”, in that if something was attempted that was difficult or odd it should be commended even if it didn’t turn out fully as planned. There are cases, yes, when things are tried and they are artistic and culinary abortions but, even then, I do respect a spectacular fail. Because what is the alternative? A flavourless world that evokes a healthy dose of boredom.

Great TV is a beautiful thing. People who can make captivating television hour after hour, season after season are some sort of sorcerers. But what about just bizarre and strange TV? I don’t know of a modern episodic program that can truly confuse or bewilder. For better or for worse I have found a slight lack of peculiarity in my TV watching. I cannot account for what the modern viewer deems odd as their peculiar might be my normal. However, recently I have stumbled upon probably the most creative attempt at television that has come along in a while. Obviously, it comes from Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins and a very obscure cable station you may not even know exists. Finding a vessel where the surreal can take place is half the battle on TV. Without the use of the trope of a dream sequence, it’s tough to go nuts because then what are you going to do to top it next week or advance the arc of your season? You can still be great, but not so much bonzo-gonzo, bonkers insane. Unless, of course, you are running a pro-wrestling company that is losing money so via desperation you are forced to do something that nobody in their right mind would do.

Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins is the, for lack of a better term, “writer” of Total Nonstop Action “Impact” Wrestling which airs weekly on the Fight Network in Canada and produced by POP TV in the United States. POP shows a lot of old Beverly Hills 90210, and that’s pretty much it. On Thursday night they show wrestling and it’s mind-boggling. For the most part the wrestling show is the same as it ever was. Men talk loudly, then they wrestle. The individual feuds follow formulaic outcomes and everybody has a nice time. Since wrestling follows crude rules of storytelling, they can also break them. Good guys can become bad guys for little reason, storylines that seemingly aren’t going anywhere can just be dropped and forgotten about without being referenced and very old storylines can be brought up and referenced heavily. Faced with low ratings and money drying up, Corgan and the production crew decided to do sort of a wrestling show, wrapped in an avant-garde film project, peppered with a meth-head’s fever dream.

It’s very simply the most bizarrely entertaining television I have seen this year (and maybe in a long time) if you are going for just the bananas-ness of it. I don’t even know if I’d call it good. Its definitely not boring – and when your entertainment company is in financial peril, you don’t want the doors closed because you didn’t take enough creative chances. It all revolves around high flying, good-guy, tag-team the Hardy Boyz. Yep, that’s their real name. They have wrestled for years and everybody likes them and they are nice guys who are very athletic and do daredevil things so everybody cheers for them. But that ran its course and they decided to pit the brothers against each other. The jealous Matt Hardy turning on his more popular brother Jeff. They had some matches and Jeff got the better of his now evil brother. Then, Matt got injured and turned into “Broken” Matt Hardy. This new Matt talks in a South African/British accent depending on how he maintains it. He over-pronounces and mispronounces most words. He’s just a wrestler from North Carolina so he is kind of making up this character as he moves along.  He uses his real-life one-year-old son as basically a prop for his bizarre character. He has a drone, Vanguard 1, that projects his image where he wants and serves as a character in this saga. His wife, Reby, is his sidekick-slash-enabler. He loves green beans, hates mustard and is just a glorious weirdo. He refers to Jeff as “Brother Nero”. Matt’s catch phrase, whenever he sees Jeff, is a deliciously overwrought, “Brother Nero…I’d knew you come!” This is presented in vignettes that are pretty much independent from the wrestling presentation. There will be 90 minutes of wrestling and then about a half hour of the Matt stuff. The son, “King” Maxel, lives behind a false bookcase of Hardy Boys adventure books, and is brought down to the dining room by being packed in a satchel and then mommy slides him down a firehouse pole. Their gardener, Senior Benjamin, is around hosting various festivals for the boy king while doing elaborate landscapes. It all culminates to the “Final Deletion” where Matt challenges Jeff to fight on his gorgeous North Carolina property. Jeff is just lost in all this. He is your tattooed, motorcycle-driving, badass archetype, but plays it totally straight as he is blessed with a likeable dumb jock charisma akin to Finn from Glee.

It’s as if you asked Timothy Leary to present wrestling. It’s a spoof of wrestling, or more like a spoof on the universe itself. It’s a wrestling match where the brothers shoot fireworks at each other, alter egos are woven in and out, Senior Benjamin is unmasked as an umbrella wielding poet named Willow, Matt protects himself with a aluminum canoe he calls Skarsgaard and it is just this insane multilayered action sequence. Jeff eventually climbs a giant…ummm…we’ll go with totem before, obviously, it burns down and he falls in a massive grave. If none of this makes any sense, imagine watching it. (Max Landis is part of a reaction video to all this. He is the director of films such as American Ultra with Kristen Stewart and he is a big fan. He says things like, “Its already at 10! I don’t even know my own name”). But wrestling can never end. It’s just to be continued.

Matt and Jeff are both now “broken” and are supposed to be bad guys but they are so strange they are cheered. So the brothers reunite as good guys and have to now face evil circus folk known as “Decay”: Abyss (an escaped mental patient, I think), Crazy Steve (He’s Crazy!) and their sidekick , Rosemary (a gothic lady). Matt has Jeff train by boxing a kangaroo named Joe Frazier and trying to ride a giraffe. “It looks like a giraffe but it is really our first president, George Washington”. So, more mayhem ensues which builds to the sequel “Deletion or Decay” back at the lavish property. It gets even more over-the-top and sublime. Abyss’ twin brother crawls out of a pond, completely oblivious to what has been going on. King Maxel is kidnapped and rescued; hitchhikers are, if not murdered, not left in great shape. Because it has to be a trilogy, Senior Benjamin is captured by the circus people which sets up more revenge

I’m leaving out a lot out because they throw a lot at you. It’s all done with high production values and not really a second draft. It may appear to be easy to make TV with no rules to it. By doing whatever you want, one is likely to be paralyzed by choice which makes it much more difficult than it appears. The great thing about these segments is that even if the quality drops off they can instantly parody themselves and become an even more bizarre. Critics of this “wrestling” just peg it as nonsense or b-movie schlock. But in a lack of such schlock on mainstream TV, it is quite refreshing. All this stuff has garnered a life of its own on social media, as the Impact show tries desperately to get buzz for their program. As of now, the company is for sale and only has until late November before funding runs out. Rumours are that Corgan, with use of his “rat in a cage” monies, can just buy the whole thing himself and then produce a “Broken” movie. Which will not be discussed here. We do TV.

There are links on youtube. Check it out. You don’t have to watch them in full. Just dart in and out as the order of events really doesn’t matter.

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