The Baltimore comedy collective combines the nervous horror of David Lynch with Beckett-like absurdity and soap-operatic cheese
In the circles of American avant-garde comedy, Adult Swim has hosted its masters for some time now. Shows such as Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! and The Eric Andre Show have both captivated and held hostage their late-night viewership. In these circles, deeply embedded in Adult Swim’s 4 am time slot, you can find the diverse work of Wham City Comedy/AB Video Solutions. Mainly composed of a Baltimore-based comic quintet (Cricket Arrison, Ben O’Brien, Dina Kelberman Robby Rackleff, Alan Resnick), they weave elaborate ARGs, layers upon layers of selfless irony, and absurd horror for their audience through shorts such as This House Has People In It, Live Forever As You Are Now with Alan Resnick, and Unedited Footage of a Bear. They have also found work through IFC, through their cultist mini-series The Mirror.
The Cry of Mann follows the Manns, a bourgeois family in crisis. The patriarch and CEO of Mann Incorporated, Tank Mann, has been missing for quite some time, leaving the family often on their last nerve. Jouglet (Ben O’Brien) has come back from an unnamed and endless war, much to his own dismay, drinking himself down an undesirable path. Jack (Alan Resnick) is a timid, slightly childish artist whose main subject is trains, until a harrowing ghost named Gergiev (Connor Kizer) places one of his teeth into his ear, slowly transforming him at first into an edgier goth version of himself, and then into a muscle-bound industrial freak controlled by rage. Berry (Jessica Garrett) is trying her damnedest to keep the family business (which branches focus on tables, chairs, battle machines, and railroads) afloat albeit her father’s disappearance, but is troubled by the constant sabotage from the power-hungry duo of Courtney (Cricket Arrison) and her assistant, Frank (Robby Rackleff), all the while the whole family is being investigated by Agent Martinez (Lorelei Ramirez). Mailmen (the main one played by Sam Weiner) visit the house occasionally, either to send tapes which consist of Tank Mann’s thoughts, or to fawn over Jouglet.
The advanced writing and acting which make all of this click makes The Cry of Mann Wham City’s most ambitious project yet. Each “episode” is completely live and goes for about 40–50 minutes, which is uncommon territory for a collective with a short video-based portfolio. To place themselves in even more of a vulnerable position, they have allowed their show to act more like a hostile call center, with large amounts of distinctive orange phones placed by the Ghost Lady (Thu Tran). The Ghost Lady also hangs up art sent to the Mann family via e-mail address. The quality of the callers’ actions are as diverse as the main cast’s responses, incorporating a subversion of the stage-audience relationship. For instance, Berry reacts to one questionable caller with a prompt “Fuck off, creep”, and another one with relative kindness. Several scenes could be perceived as callbacks to Wham City’s potential influences, such as the nervous horror of David Lynch (Twin Peaks especially comes to mind) or the abstract plays of Samuel Beckett. Greed, longing, insanity, and misery are the primary emotions of most of the characters; Courtney holds a boombox playing a tape of Tank Mann’s voice as if she was caressing Tank himself.
Wham City can chalk The Cry of Mann as a titular success, as this isn’t just bound to be one of their best projects, but as one as Adult Swim’s best in the late 2010s. Alan, Robby, Cricket, Dina, and Ben, along with the rest of the collective (folks such as Dan Deacon and Ed Schrader) have established themselves as the new vanguard. It is now time for the old guard to adjust.
Corrections: The author originally listed only Resnick, Rackleff, and O’Brien as the main players of Wham City. This has been amended to include Arrison and Kelberman as well. Dina Kelberman was also originally credited as Dina “Aukerman”.