To Binge or Not to Binge Episode 83: ‘Middleditch and Schwartz’

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Hannah Allred

(Graphic by Hannah Allred | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Hannah Keating, Arts Writer

 

“Middleditch and Schwartz” is a unique Netflix comedy special featuring three live recordings of long-form improv shows performed by Thomas Middleditch and Ben Schwartz. Improv comedy runs the risk of being alienating at times, but “Middleditch and Schwartz” is inclusive and inviting, with the two performers taking prompts from their in-person audience and presenting three near hour-long shows of some of the most incredible comedy I’ve watched. 

Thomas Middleditch — known for his role in comedy series “Silicon Valley” — and Ben Schwartz — recognizable as the iconic Jean-Ralphio Saperstein from “Parks and Recreation” — are trained improvisers and frequent collaborators. Before the pandemic hit, the duo took their talents on tour and in partnership with Netflix, filmed three of the fully-improvised, on-the-spot shows performed at NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts in New York City.

To Binge or Not to Binge

I watched the first of the shows entitled Parking Lot Wedding” on a quarantine afternoon in an effort to seek out some alone time and entertain myself. Upon finishing it, I immediately marched to the living room, stole the television remote, turned it on and forced my family to watch it with me.

Middleditch and Schwartz start all of their shows in the same way — a brief introduction followed by a prompt for the audience, “What is something you are looking forward to or dreading?” In “Parking Lot Wedding,” the two comedians weave an insane tale based on a real-life wedding party who met at a music festival together with a story of a sixth-grade romance. 

The other two shows are just as intricate and impossible. In “Law School Magic,” Middleditch and Schwartz dream up nearly a dozen larger-than-life characters enrolled in a law school course whose sly professor cannot reveal the secret to their next exam. In “Dream Job,” the duo portrays two photographers who go on separate, entangled missions to attain their ideal careers while navigating the inane landscape of job applications. 

I have never seen acting more impressive than Middleditch and Schwartz fully embodying so many characters, often swapping between them when one comedian has a shot of inspiration. Just keeping track of the story alone is a feat — I can’t imagine telling it as you go. My absolute favorite moments, though, are the times where you see the friends and collaborators mess with one another, throw a wrench in the gears or break character entirely to call their counterpart out. It’s riveting. It’s comical. It’s alive. 

The reason I come back to this show after watching it several times with friends and family is that I haven’t yet met someone who didn’t enjoy it. Even if improv or live shows are not their preferred genre, it is a saving grace from the scrolling and deliberation that comes with opening Netflix. No matter who you are watching with, the wit and collaboration of these two hysterical men are undeniable and infectious. I will, quite literally, recommend it to any person I meet. 

Best Episode

“Parking Lot Wedding” will always be my favorite for its wonderful twist of an ending where even the strangest of acting choices turns out perfectly, and its characters whose lines my family will quote to this day. 

Trigger Warnings

Some adult themes and mild language.

 

“Middleditch and Schwartz”

5/5 stars

One season, three episodes — three hours of watch time

Available to stream on Netflix

 

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@iamjustkeating