The Last Drive-in with Joe Bob Briggs

4 out of 5

Created by: Joe Bob Briggs, Austin Jennings, and Matt Manjourides

covers seasons 1 and 2, July 2018 Marathon, Dinners of Death, A Very Joe Bob Christmas, Halloween Hootenanny, Red Christmas, Halloween Hideaway, Saves Christmas, and Put a Spell on You specials

The TV movie-host format is something I’ve been familiar with, but never really “gotten,” something I’ve probably seen parodied more than actually been exposed to in its original form. Having been a child of the pre-streaming days, I watched my fair share of late-night TV on TNT and the like, and I know that I’ve occasionally had such midnight fare presented to me, but apparently never in a way that made a lasting impact.

I got a subscription to Shudder for various reasons, but none of those were related Joe Bob Briggs, who classically hosted different versions of horror / exploitation movie series; similar to what I’ve said above, I was definitely aware of Joe Bob, but his concept had no outright draw for me. I’d see commentors raving about Last Drive-in, and that that was the sole reason they joined Shudder, but I especially didn’t get it in an age of wikipedia and whatever other online resources: like, what could this one dude possibly have to tell me about these movies that I couldn’t look up on my own?

And that’s true to an extent, but it misses out on an important part of storytelling, or teaching, for that matter: why read a book if, given the plot, you can guess at the story? Same goes for movies – why watch a slasher, when you know the general beats of the format? Why bother with that history class when I can look up whatever information I need to know about the War of 1812? Because the author will bring things to the story that you would never have thought to; because the movie can slash its victims in ways you’d never have imagined; and because that teacher can explain the history in a way that moves beyond simple fact recitation. And that’s Joe Bob’s value: while, yes, he covers some territory on his movies that is common knowledge, his history in the business and his pursuit of tangent after tangent – this actor who was in one scene starred in this movie with this actor from so-and-so – means there’s somehow new information to learn on even those most explored movies, like Halloween – stuff you just would never figure to pursue, or that you’d have no way of knowing without the personal conversations Joe Bob has had over the years – not to mention bringing to our attention movies we’d either never decide to watch in the first place, or that are sorely lacking in available info because of how off the beaten path they are.

This is wrapped up in Joe Bob’s “persona” of the beer-swiggin’, boob- and violence-lovin’ horror host, moderately updated for the 2020s, though still veering into off-color, old man territory at times.

That last bit is where things can get somewhat questionable, when Joe will start on a rant (his rants a key part of any given episode) that seems close to the mark for progressiveness, and will then start to questionably veer toward a more conservative, limited point of view… You can question how much of this is shtick versus reality, but regardless, the lack of filter on the man, while part of the show, would be a detriment if it was the main draw, but it’s actually not. The focus is on the movies, and the community surrounding that. And the behind-the-camera crew (as well as Darcy Prince, the “mail girl” who highlights key fan letters each episode) seem to be enjoying themselves on the show, which suggests that this ranting old man is probably open to conversation on these topics. I go back and forth on it – that Joe Bob spews mainly to rile people up, but then happily engages on the subjects; or Joe Bob is the ignorant grandpa who you kinda roll your eyes at – but because all of this is part of the show’s format (i.e. let Joe Bob rant – 5 minutes; introduce movie – 5 minutes; etc.), and because it does work with JB’s purposefully hick persona, it ends up being entertaining overall, and for every speech that hits on some questionable moments, there are plenty that are just fun, or make some good points, mixed in with weirder points. In other, less runaround explanations, just as JB brings a passion to his chat about the films, there’s an energy in his speeches that makes them interesting to listen to… and then maybe roll your eyes.

And I then have to weigh the overall value of the show: just considering the parts between movies – the parts where Joe talks, or talks to guests, or talks to Darcy – the fact that I can sit and watch hours of what’s literally just a dude sitting in a lawn chair, drinkin’ a beer and chatting, is very noteworthy. When Shudder released “Just Joe Bob” segments – editing episodes down to, as is suggested, just Joe, and no movie film segments – that cemented that value even more.

So, yes, while I might question anyone who hangs on every one of JB’s words as gospel, wound into the show’s DNA is an appreciation for the world’s off-brand denizens – the type of folks making and starring in these movies – and that’s not necessarily the same as agreeing with all of their principles. And I think Joe Bob, and the makers of The Last Drive-In understand that, which couches the whole show in a very casual, grain-of-salt vibe. Mix this in with the bevy of fascinating tidbits Joe brings to every single episode, and it’s a massively addicting watch, even if / when you couldn’t care less about whichever featured flick.