My Brother, My Brother and Me is one of my favorite podcasts. It is nominally an advice show where the McElroy brothers answer listener questions and respond to bizarre postings on Yahoo! Answers. Your oldest brother Justin, your middlest brother Travis, and your sweet baby brother and Forbes 30 under 30 media luminary Griffin have been dispensing less than useful wisdom in podcast form since 2010, and it is an absolute delight. And this year, Seeso (NBC’s streaming comedy service) turned it into a TV show and it’s one of the funniest shows available right now.
The brothers returned to their hometown of Huntington, West Virginia for the TV show, which changes up the basic premise only slightly. Each episode is devoted to a single viewer question, whether or not they get around to actually answering it. A teacher asks how she can get her students to put down their devices during class or a guy want to know how to convince his wife to let him get a pet tarantula. The McElroys let these ideas spin out into absurdity until an episode about preparing a better résumé eventually lands them staking out their individual territories in Safetytown and going to war. It’s loose and silly but they have the uncanny ability to act on their weirder impulses. When they decide to throw a Tarantula Parade, they actually throw a Tarantula Parade. (And take offense when a local paper calls it “an impromptu parade”. “An impromptu parade is just… traffic.”) Nearly every episode has them visiting the Mayor’s office, and Mayor Steve William is as amused by them as he is perplexed. (“So why are you in my office right now?”) The McElroys sit right at the intersection of imagination and execution, which means that a TV version of an inherently non-visual idea turns out brilliantly.
The TV version of MBMBaM is pure joy – the brothers are having an absolute blast bringing this to life, and it shows in every scene. Even better, they seem genuinely astonished that this is a thing they get to do. There’s a giddy sense of fun that makes the show and the brothers just aggressively likable.
And it’s worth noting that they are nice guys. (Or, in Griffin’s parlance, “a bunch of good, good boys”.) Their humor is never mean. They don’t have targets, unless those targets are their own absurd creations. Their podcast is welcoming and compassionate. The brothers did an interview prior to the TV show where they got at something that made me think about how I approach humor, so I’m just going to quote the TV Guide article at length, if that’s cool:
(Referring to how they try not to hurt people with their comedy:)
TRAVIS: “When someone tells you, ‘Hey, what you just did hurt me,’ you have two options. One is to say ‘You’re wrong and I didn’t do anything wrong’. Or your other option is to say, ‘Okay, well, if you feel that way, let me take a step back and look at what I really did’. Do that second one every time.”
GRIFFIN: “…anything that has a big enough audience becomes a lesson in empathy. The show and me, Griffin, a person, have gotten so much better since those lessons have come pouring in. I like having that relationship with our audience, and I genuinely think it’s funnier not to say no or not slam people instead of getting on board with them.”
The fun of the show doesn’t come at anybody’s expense. Even Mayor Williams is in on the joke and the joke is, say, that they want to be honorary mayors and they will do anything to trick him into letting that happen. When they get paranormal investigators to determine whether they’ve sufficiently haunted a dorm room, the brothers are nice and respectful to them, even though the whole premise is absurd. At the end of the day, even when they’ve spent that day creating their own secret society (“Knights Templar 2: Wacky Wizards”), they’re nice guys who head to their dad’s for dinner. (Father Clint is a longtime radio personality and absolute gem. He’s the Internet’s dad.)
In a world where there are too damn many shows to watch and I fall behind on streaming releases immediately, I’ve watched all six episodes of MBMBaM twice already. It’s as funny as anything you’re going to see anywhere on television – bits like Griffin’s scrolling digital sign for job interviews or the tarantula expert (“You’re the spider guy and YOU yelled at it.”) or Lin-Manuel Miranda’s narration for the finale are screamingly funny. (Miranda is a longtime fan of the podcast. You know that weird thing he does with his hand whenever he’s on TV? That’s a shout-out to the brothers – he’s honking the “Great Job!” horn.) I could watch Griffin driving his tiny car around Safetytown or preemptively dabbing every time he tries a water bottle flip all day. Or Justin recording the worst radio promo in the world. Or Travis hiding out in his spider safe space wearing a shower cap and holding a hammer. If you’re familiar with the McElroys, it’s impossible not to love this show which is such a pure expression of what they’ve been doing for almost seven years. And if you’ve never heard of them, the TV show is a great place to start. It’s a show about some loveable goofs sometimes forgetting exactly what it was they were supposed to accomplish – it couldn’t possibly be more accessible.
I’m in the tank for both the McElroys and for Seeso as a service. I mean, even if you’re not there for Bajillion Dollar Propertie$ or HarmonQuest, or the hard to find British stuff (I spent years trying to track down Man to Man with Dean Lerner!), MBMBaM is the killer app. It’s the reason to check out the service as far as I’m concerned.
And it all ends on one of a really lovely, honest moment. The finale is all about the brothers preparing for a live show, a longtime tradition of their podcast. And all the local folks who helped out over the course of the show turn up, which is a nice finale moment. But afterwards, when the show is over and everybody’s cleared out, the brothers are sitting together on the edge of the stage and they talk about how much they enjoyed making the show together and declare their love, and it kind of feels like they didn’t even mean for us to see it. And then Justin starts to tear up. “I was worried the whole time that maybe I wasn’t appreciating this enough. And, uh, I feel like for once we really, I don’t know, did the most we could with something.” It’s this beautiful moment where Justin is expressing genuine gratitude and it’s not the kind of thing you get to see. Of course, one second later, Travis and Griffin start making fun of him and his “sweet Emmy juice”. I did not expect to get all choked up at a show about people who tried and failed to get Reginald VelJohnson to appear at their parade.
My Brother, My Brother and Me is as pure an expression of creative joy as you’re going to find on TV. In recent months, the McElroy family of products has done a lot to help me feel better about the world which is a lot of weight to put on entertainment, but if anybody can do it, it’s those good boys.