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Big Lake aired from August 2010 until ? on Comedy Central.
A Review from Variety
(Series -- Comedy Central, Tues. Aug. 17, 10 p.m.)
By BRIAN LOWRY
Filmed in New York by Gary Sanchez Prods. and Motron Prods. in association with Debmar-Mercury and Lionsgate. Executive producers, Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Chris Henchy, Lew Morton; co-executive producers, Don Scardino, T. Sean Shannon, Mike Schwartz; supervising producer, Alysse Bezahler; producer, Owen Burke; director, Scardino; writer, Morton.
Josh - Chris Gethard
Glenn Cordoba - Horatio Sanz
Mr. Chris Henkel - Chris Parnell
Dad - James Rebhorn
Mom - Deborah Rush
Comedy Central's stab at a multicamera sitcom, "Big Lake," isn't merely bad. It's "Wow, how did that happen given who's involved?" bad. From the basic premise -- a guy forced to move back home with his parents after losing millions, including their retirement nest egg in an ill-defined investment scheme -- to jokes at their feeble best dealing in non sequiturs, this comedy from the folks responsible for "Funny or Die" utterly misses that first category and ought to pretty quickly be jettisoned to the second.
Produced under Will Ferrell and Adam McKay's shingle and featuring "Saturday Night Live's" Horatio Sanz and Chris Parnell in supporting roles, the series stars the Upright Citizens Brigade's Chris Gethard as Josh, the aforementioned schlemiel. He is greeted none too happily by his father (fine character actor James Rebhorn, who deserves much better) and ditsy mom (Deborah Rush) when he shows up on their doorstep, vowing to win back the $385,000 of theirs he lost.
So like, think "Wall Street" if Charlie Sheen's character had to move in with his dad after the company went belly up -- and it's every bit as hilarious as that sounds.
Quickly dispensing with this back story, the premiere finds Josh planning to sell a valuable baseball to pay off the debt, while reuniting with school chum Glenn (Sanz) and former teacher Mr. Henkel (Parnell), who has gone from inspirational to surly. The second installment involves a house that Lee Harvey Oswald might have lived in, presumably under the "Tragedy plus time equals comedy" theory.
Beyond the marquee producer names Comedy Central is promoting, the real disappointment is that writer Lew Morton ("Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story") and director Don Scardino ("30 Rock") helped birth this mess, which is overplayed and obvious (except perhaps for Gethard's dismally uninteresting straight man) on every level.
As the press release notes, the Debmar-Mercury project is "modeled after previous successful ground-breaking Tyler Perry sitcom ventures" in its deal points, with Comedy Central initially committing to 10 episodes and holding an option for 90 more -- 100 episodes representing the magic number for stripping the property in syndication.
Having endured two installments, it's frankly hard to imagine anybody wading through "Big Lake" 98 more times. Although in keeping with the program's theme, perhaps Bernie Madoff should be forced to.
Camera, Bill Berner; production designer, Nicholas Lundy; editor, Elizabeth Merrick; music, Kevin Hoetger, Kyle Crusham; casting, Jennifer Euston. 30 MIN.
A Review from The New York Times
The Angst of an Accidental Sitcom Star
Ali Goldstein/Comedy Central
By DAVE ITZKOFF
Published: August 13, 2010
A FEW weeks into shooting on the Comedy Central series “Big Lake” Chris Gethard said things were going more smoothly than he had imagined.
“I’ve only broken down and cried once,” Mr. Gethard (pronounced GETH-erd) said in May of his first starring role — really, the first television show on which he will have any recurring presence. “Which I think is a surprisingly low number. I would’ve predicted a much more consistent amount of panic-driven crying.”
If Mr. Gethard, a soft-spoken 30-year-old comedian with short hair and glasses, was feeling under the gun, it was understandable. Only a month earlier he had been plucked from semiobscurity to play the lead character in the scripted comedy “Big Lake,” replacing the actor Jon Heder, for whom the show had been tailored. The show makes it debut on Tuesday.
Now Mr. Gethard, a performer well known at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Manhattan but not widely recognized outside the improv comedy scene, was living both a show-business dream and a nightmare: the excitement of being the ingénue who’s been given his breakthrough opportunity, and the crushing anxiety of feeling as if its success rests entirely on his shoulders.
“Otherwise,” he said, “I’ve been really having fun and enjoying it.”
In July 2009 Comedy Central announced with some fanfare that it had struck a deal with Gary Sanchez Productions, the company of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, to produce a 10-episode series that the network could renew for as many as 90 more episodes.
Though the show did not have a fully formed concept at its announcement, “Big Lake” has the pedigree of Mr. Ferrell and Mr. McKay, whose collaborations include the films “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” and “The Other Guys.” It also features the “Saturday Night Live” veterans Chris Parnell and Horatio Sanz in supporting roles.
And then there was the presence of Mr. Heder, the nebbishy star of the 2004 independent comedy “Napoleon Dynamite,” playing a onetime financial whiz kid who returns to his hometown after causing the collapse of an investment bank.
But in March, as production on “Big Lake” began, Mr. Heder announced that he was leaving the show because of “creative differences with the character.”
Mr. Heder declined to comment for this article. But Chris Henchy, a Gary Sanchez partner and an executive producer for “Big Lake,” acknowledged that the show’s ad-hoc assembly may have played a role in the actor’s departure.
“We started that way, with Jon in mind,” Mr. Henchy said. “We tried to force that fit, which didn’t work.”
Mr. Sanz was circumspect in his discussion of Mr. Heder’s departure. “How do I put this in a very careful way?” he said. “I just don’t think he was comfortable and the show wasn’t playing to his strengths, and I don’t think he was playing to the show’s strengths.” But of greater concern to the “Big Lake” cast and crew members was whether the show would continue at all.
Recalling the day that Mr. Heder announced his departure, Mr. Parnell said: “I was really shocked to get the call from the production manager. But she quickly reassured me that they were still moving forward. It felt a little shaky at that point, but they seemed pretty committed to it.”
Among the handful of performers considered for the newly vacant role was Mr. Gethard, who was frequently used by Gary Sanchez Productions as a reader in other actors’ auditions and who shares a small scene with Mr. Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg as a bank clerk in “The Other Guys.”
“My agent called me,” said Mr. Gethard, who at the time was shooting a pilot presentation at a wrestling ring in Pennsylvania, “and she was like, ‘I know you get nervous about everything, so usually I don’t ever say this, but this is a big one.’ ”
“She’s right,” he continued. “I am a nervous person, so if she has to tell me that, then it’s for real.”
Though Mr. Gethard describes himself as “a weirdo from New Jersey,” Mr. Henchy said he has shown he can hold his own against the likes of Mr. Ferrell and Mr. McKay.
“We’re loud,” Mr. Henchy said. “But once he settles in and he just starts going, there’s some energy there and some intensity, which we loved.”
Beyond the superficial resemblance to Mr. Heder, Mr. Henchy said, Mr. Gethard had an intrinsic connection to his “Big Lake” character. “You can see Gethard living with his parents,” Mr. Henchy said. “He totally fits that mold, for better or worse.”
After earning the part in April, Mr. Gethard had to contend with a grueling production schedule at the Silvercup Studios in Long Island City, Queens, and occasionally coming across call sheets that still listed the show as “The Untitled Jon Heder Project.”
Meanwhile the “Big Lake” creators were trying to figure out exactly what the show was. Mr. Henchy said its original conceit was “a Comedy Central version of a sitcom,” built on the premise that “we all grew up on these laugh-tracked, multicamera, brightly lit shows.”
But it quickly took a darker, more subversive turn: Mr. Sanz’s character, a longtime friend of Mr. Gethard’s, is an aimless ex-con, while Mr. Parnell’s is a burned-out high school teacher. “He’s kind of perverse, he’s kind of a creep, he’s somewhat amoral,” Mr. Parnell said. “It’s scary to look too hard, at how much of me is really in the character.”
Mr. Sanz compared their weekly adventures — like trying to turn a character’s home into a Lee Harvey Oswald museum and theme park called Lee Harvey Osworld — to a bygone era of screwball comedy.
“We’re like the Three Stooges,” he said. “But we alternate who Moe, Curly and Larry are. No one is much smarter than anybody.”
What usually carries the day, Mr. Gethard said, is the unflinching optimism of his character, a trait that he is trying mightily to cultivate in real life.
“He’s very much a believer in things working out the right way,” Mr. Gethard said. “He’s usually the collected one, even though he facilitates these characters who are super angry or drug addled or arguably evil.”
As the premiere of “Big Lake” approached, its more experienced cast members seemed unsure of whether they were rooting for it to receive a 90-episode pickup, which would keep them working — and dominate their schedules — for the next two to three years.
“Anything that’s two or three years, it’s like prison,” Mr. Sanz said. Though the job would bring security, he said, “there’s also security at prison. You don’t have to get a job. Food’s taken care of.”
Characteristically Mr. Gethard was fearful that the progress he had rapidly made in the entertainment industry could just as rapidly vanish. “I’m so scared that it’s going to be like ‘Flowers for Algernon,’ ” he said. “My life is going to go back to what it was before.”
But, starting to sound like his “Big Lake” protagonist, Mr. Gethard said another 90 episodes of the show would be a gift on top of the 10 he has already been permitted to make.
“I’m kind of like, ‘Awesome, I’ll have a job for three years?’ ” he said. “I’m amazed that I had a job for two months. I’m so happy.”
A Review from The New York Post
Buddy comedy with Wall Street loser
Last Updated: 1:36 PM, August 17, 2010
"Big Lake" Tonight at 10 on Comedy Central
* * *
Oh, no -- can it really be an other sitcom about a grown son moving back home after failing big time in the big city? Yes. But not, "oh, no."
Even though it seems like that scenario has been worked over more than JFK assassination conspiracies on the Internet, Comedy Central's new sitcom, "Big Lake" is, it turns out, a spoof on all that.
Not that it doesn't start out like a reheated rehash. There's a giant laughtrack, the living room set with the staircase in the back, the couch in the middle and the kitchen off that room. That goes along with the dysfunctional family and the returning old best friend.
I mean, seriously, wouldn't you think, "same old/same old?" I did.
Then it started, and I started to giggle. But by the second episode I was spitting diet Coke out of my nose.
"Big Lake" centers on Josh (Chris Gethard), who has come home after a brief-but-meteoric rise and deep dive as one of those investment bankers who wrecked the entire economic structure of the US for their own personal greed. His idiocy brought down the bank where he worked and wiped out his father's $375,000 retirement fund.
His father (James Rebhorn) hates him, his mother (Deborah Rush) is one diet pill over the line and his cute little 13-year-old brother in the kiddie pajamas (Dylan Blue) is packing heat -- and sneaks out to run his criminal empire at night.
On his first day home, Josh reconnects with his old best friend, loser Glenn (Horatio Sanz), and their former high school history teacher (Chris Parnell), who used to care and is now a big slacker.
On tonight's episode, "Josh Comes Home," the three morons try to figure out how to make some money in order to pay back Josh's dad. They come up with a scheme to sell Barry Bonds' 756th home-run ball that Josh bought for $700,000 -- but is now worth squat with Bonds' implication in the steroid scandal. There's a cameo by St. John the Baptist, and we get to see Glenn's "The Color Purple" tattoo on his belly, which he got as a result of his harrowing experience in minimum security prison.
But it's the second episode, "Lee Harvey Osworld," with its "Bay of Pigs in the Blanket," that had me screaming with laughter. I mean, we're talking seriously funny.
An Interview with Chris Gethard
Q&A with Chris Gethard, star of Comedy Central sitcom Big Lake
Published: Tuesday, August 17, 2010
By Ethan Ullman, for The Scene
Big Lake, a brand new show on Comedy Central, will premiere at 10 p.m. on Aug.17. The show is a Gary Sanchez Production, which is Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s production company. Big Lake stars Chris Gethard, Deborah Rush, James Rebhorn and Dylan Blue, as well as Horatio Sans and Chris Parnell from Saturday Night Live. The Scene had the opportunity to speak with Chris Gethard, star of Big Lake.
Chris, what is Big Lake about?
Gethard: Big Lake is about a young man named Josh, who I play. He grew up in the small town of Big Lake, Pa., left for the city because he was a financial whiz kid and got all of these people hyped up about his abilities. In the short term, he made everyone a ton of money, but it turned out he didn’t know what he was doing at all and lost millions and millions of dollars for a lot of people. Amongst the money he lost was $400,000 of his parents’ money. So, the series picks up as he heads back into his hometown to crash on his parents’ couch, even though his parents hate him for losing all of this money.
Did Comedy Central give any specific guidelines that you had to work around?
Gethard: That’s something I wouldn’t know about. Writers may have been handed things like that, but I wasn’t in the writing room. On our end, down on the floor, when we were filming, we would attack the scripts. They also let us improvise a lot. The writers were down on the floor helping out with that whole process, feeding us lines and helping us build the jokes. Comedy Central generally had someone on-hand to help make decisions, but they never went out of their way to censor it or control too much. They were not like a controlling, iron-fisted evil enterprise that you might expect from network executives, or whatever image there is of them. Everybody was there working very hard to make it as funny as we possibly could.
How were you guys able to take the cliché sitcom formula and really turn it into something worth watching?
Gethard: Well, it’s produced by Gary Sanchez Productions, which is Adam McKay and Will Ferrell’s company, so it’s probably not too surprising that it has a little bit of a subversive edge to it. I think that using the sitcom format, which is so traditional, and then filing that up with dark humor regarding the dark side of American families creates a really interesting show. It’s a pretty cool twist, you know? For example, the mother is this very cheery suburban mom, but we quickly find out she’s addicted to diet pills, sees visions and talks to her hallucinations. The kid who plays my little brother has a lisp and is also this cheery little kid, and then every time the adults leave the room, he snaps into his real personality. He’s a badass drug dealer, he’s got tons of money, and he insinuates that he’s killed people and he’s dodging the FBI. The show uses the sitcom format, which traditionally celebrates family life, and examines all the dark cracks in that image.
Did you come up with the idea for the show or were you just cast in it?
Gethard: The show was running and in-production before I came on board. Jon Heder, who played Napoleon Dynamite, was attached to it and then opted to leave. They held some auditions right before production started, so I got the job on very short notice. I just stepped in and hit the ground running. We filmed 10 episodes in six weeks. It was a very head-spinning experience, but I’m extraordinarily grateful that I got the opportunity.