If you hear the premise of Time Traveling Bong, the new Comedy Central miniseries from Broad City‘s Ilana Glazer, Paul W. Downs, and Lucia Aniello, you won’t be surprised by how they came up with it – hell, you can guess that from the title. “So we were blazed,” Glazer explained at a Q&A following the show’s premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival Saturday. “And I was telling you guys about this professor I had in college who was talking about New York, like old New York, like before the sewer system was invented, and it was so fucking disgusting here. This was like, Gangs of New York time. And we were talking about how if you went back to that time, you would not be able to flip, because it would stank so hard.”
“And then we were like, imagine if you were stoned and experiencing that, it would be so intense,” Downs said. “It would be horrible. So time travel would be impossible to do.”
“And also we are just stoners,” Glazer explained. “I dunno, weed is magical. It’s like the essence of something, but in a plant, I dunno. I just love weed.” So do they long for the days when they had more free time to smoke weed and think up ideas like this? Aniello shrugged. “Now it’s for work.”
The trio collaborates on Broad City – all three write, Glazer stars, Downs co-stars, Aniello directs – but Diallo explained the dynamic was much different on this show, as well as the speed. “It happened very quickly,” Aneillo explained. “We basically got the green light to write in November, wrote in December, prepped it in January, shot it in February, and just cut in March.” They shot it in a scant 12 days, “kind of like a 24-hour film festival that wouldn’t end,” Aneillo joked, but one where they were dealing with set pieces and special effects and something a bit more – and it’s a strange word to use when you’re talking about something called Time Traveling Bong – ambitious.
But they were also dealing with a closed circuit, a story they were entering with a defined beginning, middle, and end – or, as Glazer put it, “it’s both TV and also it’s kind of a 70-minute movie. But also, it’s like, have you guys been watching O.J.? We are calling this Comedy Central’s O.J.”
“It’s very highbrow, this is prestige television,” Downs added. The packed house at Tribeca Saturday saw the show in, basically, that 70-minute movie form – straight through, with no commercials, an unsurprisingly absurd and unassailably goofy piece of work (once again, it is called Time Traveling Bong).
It tells the story of Sharee (Glazer) and Jeff (Diallo) a couple of, in Glazer’s words, “useless white people” who discover the titular item, a bong from the future that will send its smokers throughout time on the first smoke, and back home on the next. But early in their time-traversing adventure, the bong gets smashed by a bunch of Puritans who think Sharee’s a witch; when reassembled, it doesn’t quite function properly, sending them skipping through time like stones on a lake, to the Neanderthal era, the Antebellum South, small-town America circa 1963, ancient Greece, and a dystopian future of endless garbage.
As you can imagine, some of this gets a little sticky – like when our heroes pull a bunch of slaves off a plantation, deposit them in 1963, and crown themselves “white saviors.” And the show’s creators were aware of the kind of thin ice they’re walking on. “A lot of people romanticize time travel,” Aneillo said, “but if you are a woman who was to time travel, or anybody essentially that is not a white man, you’re probably not going to have the best time. So for us, it was important to try to acknowledge that or nod to it in the best way we could.”
Glazer acknowledges that courting thinkpiece culture is “scary, but this series is about history, so it’s like, whatever the choice, you’re saying something.”
And if’s a little uneven, in both style and tone, what’s great about Time Traveling Bong is the way they manage to sneak the tiniest bit of commentary in. It’s a little jarring, off the top, to see our Ilana as a jean-jacket wearing, straight-haired twit, dating a sexist, married “neighborhood watch” jagoff in an “All Lives Matter” shirt with a “Dixie” car horn. The show is peppered with little touches like that, a reminder that it’s not just a show about a couple of stoners traveling through time. Or is it?
“This is in-sane,” Glazer admits. “It is so stupid, Time Traveling Bong is so fucking stupid, but I think it is so good, and I love it so much, and I’m like, ‘it’s smart’.” It can be a bit of a dance, she says, when critics read more into the work than they intend: “If they’re saying it to me, and they’re like, ‘It’s brilliant,’ and I’m like, ‘Mmm, is it?'”
Downs concurs: “I feel like we try in Time Traveling Bong, we did it in Broad City, to be funny first. Sometimes there are these more academic readings of the show, and you’re like, Wow, and you’re surprised by a review because they can give you a little more credit than you deserve. Because in the end we’re just trying to be funny. And if we say something more, that’s great. But I think in the end we’re like, is it funny?”
Time Traveling Bong premieres on Comedy Central on Wednesday night, which is 4/20, of course.