Tim Heidecker is running for District Attorney of San Bernadino, California. Or, to put it in a slightly more accurate way: “Tim Heidecker” is “running” for “District Attorney” of the small SoCal town. You don’t need to have watched the comedian’s groundbreaking, brain-grinding sketch series with Eric Wareheim, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, to sense that there are a lot of air quotes in the premise of Mister America. Nor do you have to know his various collaborations within the confines of his Adult Swim homebase to glean what he’s trying to do with this feature-length mockumentary — though you may need a die-hard Heideckerhead to explain what, exactly, is the endgame here. There is anti-humor, the practice of steadfast, irony-soaked unfunniness that stand-ups like Andy Kaufman have turned into a glorious Dadaist goof. And then there’s trying to pass off straight-faced, flop-sweat belligerence as some kind of satirical skewering and failing miserably. Two guesses as to where this particular example of comic flatlining falls.
Heidecker wants to throw his hat in the ring for D.A. because he has a grudge against the city’s current legal authority, Vincent Rosetti (Don Pecchia). The candidate once co-founded a music festival that resulted in numerous vaping deaths; he was cleared of second-degree murder charges but wants to dish out some payback to the prosecutor. So with a documentary crew in tow — sorry, a “documentary crew” — he campaigns for Rosetti’s job. His “platform” is a combination of immigrants-are-bad rhetoric, a few make-San-Berdoo-great-again platitudes. He yells at his manager (Terri Parks), and constituents, and everybody. Sequences involving Heidecker putting up signs with his slogan “We have a rat problem” — oddly enough, restaurant owners take issue with this tagline — and telling African-Americans that he’d like to clamp down on all that rap music suggest a gonzo cringe-comedy excursion in the making. Director/cowriter Eric Notarnicola worked on Nathan for You and Sacha Baron Cohen’s Who Is America, so he knows the territory.
Meanwhile, Heidecker’s old “film-archivist buddy” Gregg Turkington (the man behind Neil Hamburger’s brilliantly curdled Borscht Belt shtick) keeps showing up, trying to throw salt in his friend’s electoral game. The would-be D.A. blows up at him too. If this dynamic sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because you may have caught some of the duo’s On Cinema At the Cinema episodes, their Adult Swim movie-review show that keeps devolving into a soap opera. (The whole music-show murder trial thing? Heidecker aired that on the network as a sort of Court TV takeoff as well.) There are a lot of “Previously on…” type flashbacks to fill newbies in; clips of another show, Decker, get dropped in as well.
What starts as a potential comedy about our toxic, by-any-photo-op-necessary moment simply becomes a curiously drawn-out exercise in extended Heideckerverse mythology, which begs the question: Why didn’t Mister America just run on Adult Swim as a special or get chopped up into late-night-friendly little bites? Instead, we get something that’s too long for their usual stoner-digestible absurdism, too unfocused to really take on post-Trumpian political targets, and too insular to translate to folks not already invested in their long, drawn-out in-joke. Mister America isn’t trying to be “funny”; it’s just trying to be fan service. These things aren’t always mutually exclusive. There is an exception to every rule.