The art of deadpan is a relatively recent one in the historical arc of comedy. Though the straight man has probably been around forever – from the caveman, to vaudeville, to Jack Benny and beyond – the practice of deadpanning to a somewhat complicit audience is the stuff of more recent times and has found a comfortable home on the web. Mitch Magee’s The Indigenous Flowers of Southern California hits a near perfect deadpan pitch with a fusion of parody and sketch delivered with flawless timing. We’re all in on the joke without sacrificing any idols, other than a few comedy tropes.
Campbell Ellis (Adam Pally) is IFSC’s bathtub-bound protagonist, and the indigenous flowers which flank his tub are the four-part series’ props. Ellis’ straight-to-camera pronouncements about all the benefits to be had from the indigenous flowers of SoCal (‘a continuous form of inspiration’ to him and his family) are delivered with just the right note of deference, indifferent knowingness, and repressed smugness to the point that you can only love this guy.
Magee and Pally are both Upright Citizens Brigade veterans. They’ve boiled down their improv in a way that lets them assimilate all the nuanced pauses and awkward silences required for the refined staging of a scripted comedy. Magee is a huge Monty Python aficionado – and what improv writer isn’t shaped by Python? – but the tone more precisely struck in IFSC is that of Jack Handey’s Deep Thoughts, if only in its structure. There’s the deadpan narration of Ellis, along with the APS (read UPS) guy, and members of Ellis’ family that gradually join him; the not-too-subtle elevator music theme; and the transparently bland subject matter. But because there’s acting here rather than just voice-over, there’s so much more comic potential, and Magee maximizes it.
The actors aren’t overly masterful, which actually befits the comic tone, and a few of them, especially Barry the APS guy, appear a beat or two away from losing it in hysterics (indeed, there were three to five takes for each shot with plenty of “crack-up moments,” according to Magee). It’s that on-the-verge-of-busting comedic tension that not only sets up the punch lines nicely, it also makes the segues into them that much more lubricated. IFSC isn’t without its flaws – the bland and unflattering solo shots of the flowers is forgivable; the series closer, which involves a clown, is less than – but one couldn’t ask for more in an online, deadpan sketch series. It’s a refreshingly short dose of comic relief.
Magee’s next project, also slated for Funny or Die, is Mind Ride “about a psychiatrist who transports his patients into an alternate dimension to diagnose them.” Stay tuned.