Agents representing agents. Cover bands covering other cover bands. Discussions in a show about discussions in the show.
There probably isn’t a better use of punctuation marks in a title than [“(Layers)”], the eight-part Superdeluxe series created by Nick Kroll and Jason and Randy Sklar that takes the entertainment industry’s self-consciousness to new levels of hilarity by multiplying the phoniness and narcissism in endless funhouse mirrors.
But while the show’s m.o. is meta, its laughs are purely none-derivative. The young but seasoned pros behind Layers never get too smart for their own good and keep things as straightforwardly funny as possible even while mocking a world addicted to self-referential cleverness.
The first lines of the show neatly prepare one for the ensuing confusion: “Is that a copy of the fax of the ICM contract?” “This is a copy of a copy of that fax.” “Good. Email it to me.”
Kroll plays protagonist Benji Lessman, Hollywood’s only existing “agent’s agent,” an agent who offers his services to others in his trade. Or tries to, in his fumbling, inept way. He’s in turn represented by Larry (Randy Sklar) and Terry Bridge (Jason), identical twin brother publicists who complete each other’s sentences as well as confound Benji with their easily mistakable identities.
###The set-up inherently mocks the biz’s penchant for needless and superfluous hangers-on wanting a percentage of the action, but Layers ups the ante by making the show a mock reality show (the Bridge boys’ idea—“It’s called viral marketing—and you are the virus”) in which Superdeluxe chimes in with memos and suggestions that move the action forward.
It’s life imitating art imitating, etc., usually to the detriment of Benji, whose humiliation makes for bad business but good webisodes.
Within its short overall runtime, Layers keeps coming up with jokes about meta-ness: M.C. Escher (copied, of course), the movie version of Bewitched, Benji masturbating to videos of himself masturbating. But the best bits involve flustered Benji’s meetings with the unflappable Bridges, the kind of smarmy, lying Hollywooders who boast that they can spin anything (“The Holocaust?” “State of Israel. And Steven Spielberg.”)
They hire a simultaneously talking team of sound bite coaches to work Benji on his confessionals, scheme dramatic arches (“Does she have a letter opener?” “And a drinking problem. We gotta get her on the show more”), and even take on editing duties to make Benji’s successful meeting a chopped up failure.
These performances sell a show that knows it goes overboard with the meta (one episode, "Too Meta," has the guys dealing with criticism that the show is too meta, even as it places said criticism in the show, which, lest we forget, is about a show).
By the time another agent’s agent shows up to rival Benji Layers has pretty much run its course, but luckily it ends leaving us wanting more, or at least more of its impeccable performers who, in the tradition of the rightly name dropped Christopher Guest, know how to get into unlikeable characters’ skins.
It’s one of the best series on the web. On so many levels.