The day we premiered the first episode of Pretty Awful online, I received an email from someone that attended the premiere a couple days prior. Justin Yandell has seemingly supported our web series since the day we announced it on Facebook and he wrote the review below on his own accord and sent it to me. I shared it with Katie and Amber immediately and we all agreed that it was flattering beyond belief.
Are we tooting our own horn a bit by posting such a positive review? Yeah, but that’s the power we yield when we lease a domain, with which we can do as we please. But I also found the write up interesting because there are things Justin mentions below that simply never occurred to me. A healthy discussion of media always gets me going. So with my overlong preface out of the way, I’ll let that discussion start here.
If the notion that women can’t be funny were a man, Pretty Awful would push him down the stairs, rifle his pockets, and buy whip-its with the loot. It’s a mean-spirited and often hilarious beast of a web series, the entropic result of “YOLO, bitches” mentality run amok.
The brainchild of Austin comic Amber Bixby, Pretty Awful centers on Natashley (Bixby) and Gwennifer (Katie Pengra), two products of pop culture and public education who are simultaneously revolting and endearing. That’s a fine line to walk, and one that’s been traversed for years by the likes of Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David and the cast of Always Sunny in Philadelphia. But where those shows were birthed and ultimately restricted by the times in which they were created, Awful is a creature of today; a snarling satire of the worst and ugliest traits of a generation defined by nihilistic self-obsession.
Natashley and Gwennifer will undoubtedly draw comparisons to Beavis and Butt-head – comparisons that will be both fair and short-shrift. Like Mike Judge’s creations, Nat and Gwen are narcissistic halfwits who only pry themselves from their couch long enough to indulge in their basest instincts, but the similarities end there. First, Bixby and Pengra are far more animated than their cartoon counterparts. Bixby plays the doe-eyed dip to great effect while Pengra rockets back and forth between vapid self-adulation and outright savagery, a blond wolverine with the fur coat to match. Second, Beavis and Butt-head – for all its bark – was held in check by the same conservative sensibilities that would later make King of the Hill pitch-perfect. The boys were idiots but, past their initial episodes, they were rarely openly nasty. Pretty Awful has daggers running through in its veins.
If there’s a downside to the series, it’s that the first season is limited to three episodes of seven or eight minutes each. The first, ‘Sharknadoes and Witches’ is a sort of bottle-episode that traps the viewer with the main characters just long enough to get a sense of who they are. It doesn’t start baring real teeth until halfway through the second episode, but by the end of the third it’s biting and clawing at any sense of decency the viewer has left. It can’t be overstated; this third episode is a constant high point. It turns left three times during the course of its painfully short runtime, an impressive feat that shows like Sunny and Archer rarely achieve in twenty-two minutes.
While Bixby and Pengra are the blood of the show, credit also goes to the supporting cast propping them up. Avery Moore shines as Nat and Gwen’s polar opposite, Rob Gagnon is the funniest doctor since Chris Parnell did 30 Rock, and Lisa Friedrich runs away with one of the best line-deliveries in the entire season. Without these foils, as well as the razor-sharp editing that cuts them all together, Bixby and Pengra would be comic tornadoes without a trailer park to trash – sound and fury, signifying nothing.
We live is a period of hyper post-modernism where the word ‘zeitgeist’ gets thrown around a lot, usually in reference to art trying way too hard to ‘say something’ about the world around it. What makes Pretty Awful work so well is that, like Natashley and Gwennifer, it’s a beautiful and spiteful mess that doesn’t care what anyone wants to hear.