Sarah Anne Lloyd, 2011.
As December ambles on and we wander through the grey, snowless cold without a whole lot of television to help snap us out of our collective lethargy, TV Dinner is here to melt away your winter woes with intriguing programming and convenient local eats. This week, TV Dinner will be looking at IFC's Onion News Network, the television show spawned by the immensely popular weekly satirical newspaper, alongside Italian food from Padrino's Pizza and Pasta.
Sarah Anne Lloyd, 2011.
Since I've been eating plenty of pizza lately, I went with pasta and a side. Padrino's chicken tenders were some of the best chicken tenders I've ever had (take that, gas stations on the way to Portland!) with breading that managed its way onto every bite without ever taking away from the texture of the robust, juicy meat within. On the other hand, Padrino's lasagna markedly lacked the tenders' balance, giving its pockets of pasta just a little too much sog to properly fight back against the richness of the tomato sauce.
It was good, but it just seemed that Padrino's was best at simpler, more indulgent fare than hearty entrees. If you're not in the mood for pizza, I'd stick with the chicken tenders and a salad.
The Entertainment: The Onion has come far from its Wisconsin roots, from circulating primarily in college town coffee shops with giant pizza coupons taking up most of the front page, to a Peabody award-winning enterprise whose website takes in over seven million unique visitors a month. The organization also takes stride in branching off into a decidedly more straightforward popular culture criticism blog, The Onion AV Club, as well as compiling back material into dozens of volumes, inadvertently becoming trailblazers in the art of selling the same shit you can get on the internet for free, before thousands of pretenders would get their Tumblr accounts published just a few years later.
Unfortunately, The Onion has stumbled through most of its non-print, non-online content, including a (perhaps out of mercy) mostly ignored feature length film and Onion Sportsdome, a show that Comedy Central cancelled because, well, that's really all Comedy Central seems to do anymore.
Onion News Network is certainly the most successful film or television outing yet, as it is about to finish up its second season on the Independent Film Channel -- however, the show does fall to some of the same mistakes as its prototypes. If anyone who has plunged into an endless loop of links from The Onion while waistdeep in procrastination can attest, there's quite an ambitious spectrum of humor presented, ranging from the innocuously goofy ("Secretary Of Agriculture Attends Diplomatic Meeting With Foreign Cabbage") to topical political jabs ("Rumors Of Extramarital Affair End Campaign Of Presidential Candidate Who Didn't Know China Has Nuclear Weapons") to pitch black comedy ("Justin Bieber Found To Be Cleverly Disguised 51-Year-Old Pedophile"). While all of these ingredients seem perfectly fine together while someone's navigating content on their own terms, there's a unique challenge in bringing that kind of diverse humor into a totally linear thirty-minute presentation with any kind of unified tone.
Onion News Network's most prevalent attempt at a guiding voice for the newspaper's chaos comes in the form of Brooke Alvarez, a ruthless career-oriented tyrant who demands constant obedience of her frequently terrified news team. It's a funny gag the first few times, but unfortunately similar to HBO's Funny or Die Presents, the host usually comes off as pretty one-dimensional in its causticness, which starts to wear thin pretty quickly. While the character reaches some hilariously surrealist moments when Alvarez tips off the deep end, like when her memories as a tortured girl cosmonaut with a violent chimpanzee for a nemesis violently resurface, by and large the central character doesn't often reach the same depth of what has come to be expected of The Onion's material, and the show often lags for it.
Still, it's tough to reconcile the acclaimed fake news source's one-of-a-kind inflection with a totally different medium, and trying to bridge that gap deserves some credit. It certainly seems as if The Onion's video presence is becoming sharper and finding its rhythm better with each incarnation. Even if it isn't an exact visual reproduction of the newspaper's trademark wit, Onion News Network promises its own brand of laughs with a stiff, satirical back.
The Pairing: Both Padrino's and ONN offer some quality content that's unfortunately jumbled up with a few momentum-killing slip-ups. Neither are outrageously bad, it just seems like sometimes its ingredients aren't reined in very well and tend to rebel against each other in a cloying mess. That said, the good stuff really does shine, and you could do a lot worse in Italian food--and infinitely, soul-shatteringly worse in cable news satire.