The Quarantine Stream: 'Check It Out with Dr. Steve Brule' Is John C. Reilly at His Goofiest and Most Fascinating
(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Series: Check It Out with Dr. Steve Brule
Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max
The Pitch: Oscar-nominated actor John C. Reilly stars in the 1980-style public access television series Check It Out with Dr. Steve Brule, a spin-off from a segment that originated in a sketch from the Adult Swim series Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!. Armed with unfathomable naivete and social awkwardness, Dr. Steve Brule interviews real people and visits real places to bring you interesting stories and facts about food, boats, friendship, space, animals, eggs, and more.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: If you’ve seen Step Brothers, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, or Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, then you know that John C. Reilly is a gifted comedic actor. But if you’ve also seen Boogie Nights, Magnolia, or Gangs of New York, you know that he has serious dramatic chops too. Check It Out with Dr. Steve Brule finds Reilly mostly playing with the goofy side of comedy, but there’s also a dark side to this character that Reilly taps into that makes him more fascinating than just a hilariously pathological grown man.
Much of the hilarity of Check It Out with Dr. Steve Brule comes from the totally inept behavior and silly antics of the titular character. He’s clearly not the brightest sandwich in the drawer as he’s constantly mispronouncing names, looking at the wrong camera, and just being generally weird. Very quickly it becomes clear that the engine is running in Dr. Steve Brule’s head, but there’s nobody behind the wheel.
John C. Reilly’s persona is even funnier when he’s out and about interviewing actual people, but unlike Borat, the comedy mostly just comes from Dr. Steve Brule rather than trying to pull amusing reactions from the subjects. Even when Brule isn’t interviewing people, most of his dialogue is improvised and it often comes with plenty of nonsensical asides and gibberish. That’s the goofy side of the comedy, but having Reilly in the role makes it land in a way that feels strangely authentic rather than being a surface-level gag.
Joining Brule is an assembly of quirky fellow pubic access hosts played by oddball, unknown actors. They give wholly strange movie reviews, weather updates, financial advice, and provide a variety of segments that you’d typically find on public access. Even the show itself is presented in the visual style of an old VHS tape, something that was actually accomplished in post-production by actually channeling episodes through a VCR.
On top of that, as the the show progresses, Dr. Steve Brule ends up revealing haunting details about his life, including hints at why he turned out the way he did. Brule’s mother seems to be the source of his shortcomings, and there are more than a few strange scenarios that play out to provide even more unsettling insight into his past. If you’ve seen how weird Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim can get with their various Adult Swim shows over the years, you’ll know what to expect from Dr. Steve Brule.
If you’d like a taste of Check It Out with Dr. Steve Brule, here’s him on a trip to the library in an episode about words.
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