Maybe we're supposed to be changing history for the better.
Time Traveling Bong is something of a passion project. Ilana Glazer and Paul W. Downs had the idea for the project years ago and ended up making a sort of pilot type video on CollegeHumor. It was cute but didn’t warrant more than one watch. What’s more, a lot of the jokes from the original short made their way into the full sized miniseries. Quips about the horrid smell the past incurred, rescuing slaves, and having a toke to traverse the timewaves and more take center stage in what’s meant to be maybe a full length movie. And if you get the chance to watch them all at once, do so. It may be the best viewing experience.
Over the course of three episodes, Sharee (Glazer) and Jeff (Downs) jump from time period to time period after finding and subsequently breaking a time traveling bong. Along the way, they meet eccentric characters like a glassblower played by Neil Casey, a Future guard in DJ Qualls, and a young Michael Jackson. The two stars are cousins but their backstory is only glossed over at the start of the journey. Sheree is dating a married douche placed by Broken Lizard’s Kevin Heffernan and Jeff masturbates too much. After the arrival and following death of some time travelers (whom we meet in the future), the cousins take the bong, smoke it, and find themselves in colonial times.
What’s interesting here is that, in two of the areas they time travel to, both Sheree and Jeff are quick to leave their companion behind. The first episode had Jeff becoming the big man on campus in a small, 1600’s village as Sheree was deemed a witch. The second featured Sheree being used as a sex puppet in a cave dwelling, prehistoric society. Unlike Broad City, the leads here are terrible people. Abbi and Ilana make dumb decisions but, in the end, we still love them. Jeff and Sheree are kind of dicks through and through. And not in an endearing way like Seinfeld or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Time Traveling Bong doesn’t find for acceptance nor does it need it. Jeff and Sheree have to be laid out in sixty minutes so it’s natural that they’re characters aren’t fleshed out. Inversely, it’s a shame these characters are base level and unrelatable compared to the others these two have created for other projects.
The problems with Time Traveling Bong aren’t as negligible as the ones on Broad City. The effects are cheap. The side characters are funnier than the main characters. Logic loses to jokes every second (Ilana smokes her hair due to Britney Spears rationale). And a Greek trip creates unnecessary tension between the two. But it’s part of the charm. However, that doesn’t mean the special or movie or short series gets a free pass. Broad City excels because it gets a chance to breathe. Time Traveling Bong trips up when it speeds through its story. They spend entire episodes in one location but have fleeting bits in smaller venues. It’s almost as if they chose specific eras and tried to write jokes around that.
Standouts in the limited series include the discovery of Michael Jackson. They end up raising him after kidnapping him in order to have a music prodigy but curb the child sexual abuse. Another is the caveman sex stuff. And the Greek orgy proved to change the dynamic of the rest of the special. The future proves to be another bonding moment that has Jeff rescuing Sheree who is found guilty of carrying plant life (read weed).
Should you watch Time Traveling Bong?
The decision to watch the special (or short series or season) doesn’t exactly equate to complete enjoyment. Broad City will inevitably be brought up against anything these two and Abbi Jacobson do for the rest of their careers. What’s important is that the projects stand on their own. And Time Traveling Bong does just that. It’s a fun romp with some great material. It’s too bad it wasn’t fully fleshed out. But the experience is enjoyable regardless.