On Cinema at the Cinema

5 out of 5

Created by: Tim Heidecker, Gregg Turkington

covers seasons 1 – 11, The Trial, Oscar specials 1 – 7

To date: A large handful of podcasts, 11 seasons, 7 two to three hour “live” specials, a 12-hour trial of one of its stars, a spin-off TV show with 6 of its own seasons, a movie, a continual stream of in-universe tweets and an insane ramble of a website with its own host of articles and videos… all based around the two man team of Tim Heidecker and Gregg Turkington, who review movies in an incredibly unhelpful manner.

This does not compute. It doesn’t make any sense. It didn’t make any sense to me, as a Tim Heidecker fan, watching the initial seasons of “On Cinema at the Cinema” and getting that its blandness was the joke, but not really understanding how that joke translated into an ongoing series. Tim and Gregg Turkington, playing “themselves,” host short webisodes where they rate movies on a five bag popcorn scale; Tim normally has effusive praise for whatever the movie is and gives it a five, and Gregg – a “film buff” – will rattle off some random factoid about the director’s or actor’s previous film and also give it five bags, and that’s it – that seemed to be the gag. A couple of episodes in and you can see how they’re playing off of one another (that is, how their characters are playing off of one another), with Tim leaning in to the bravado of being the show’s host and creator and Gregg’s belief of himself as some renowned movie expert, but still, I wasn’t sure I could do the whole not-funny funny bit week by week.

Years pass.

I see Tim pop up here and there, unaware how many of those heres and theres are tied to On Cinema. And then I turn around and the show is still going, with this insane Reddit community who are full swing in on it, contributing to the “On Cinema Universe,” which has lore, and it’s still a goddamn show about two guys unhelpfully reviewing movies…

…But it’s not. And it never has been. I went back and watched the show from start to its current point (it’s still going, as of 2020!) – all its spin-offs, all its specials – and it still doesn’t compute, but for different reasons: this has to be the largest scale meta joke ever executed. Over the years, the lore, as mentioned, has encompassed Tim’s various failed marriages, failed business ventures, obsessions with alternative medicine, goatee and nail polish when he becomes a “rock star,” a goddamned murder trial – broadcast with a straight face and a game cast of lawyers and a judge – and Gregg’s obsessive dedication to Lord of the Rings, his VHS collection, his “management” of the VFA film archives, and his not-so-secret desire to be the host of On Cinema instead of, as per Tim, its perpetual guest. The duo hate one another – Tim’s stupid music and Gregg’s bullshit movie trivia – but they’re also the most dysfunctional codependent relationship ever, and we watch it unfold into this beautifully strange weirdness where things are rarely directly funny, but all of the non-humor has piled up on itself such that you can just binge this stuff in a trance, stupefied that it’s happened, but so, so happy that it has.

I trawl through the Reddit regularly. I’m subscribed to Heinetwork. I dare not recommend this experience to anyone, because I have no idea how to sell it, just as I still have no idea how Tim and Gregg have kept all of this spinning for so long.

Yes, there were definitely some precedents for this in Tim and Eric, and Turkington has kindred spirits with his Neil Hamburger act, but there’s nothing quite like the wily world of On Cinema, and I can’t imagine there ever again will be.