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Taken from The Review (Apr 11, 2019)

Mike Judge Presents: Tales From The Tour Bus season two

by ALANA DUKE


Mike Judge's 'Tales from the Tour Bus'. PhotoCredit: Creative Commons/THE REVIEW
Mike Judge's "Tales from the Tour Bus" gives viewers an intimate look into the craziness of life on the road for popular musicians. PhotoCredit: Creative Commons/THE REVIEW


"The following is about real people and real events," the disclaimer for Mike Judge's animated show "Mike Judge Presents: Tales from the Tour Bus" states. "However, due to the passage of time, and, in some cases, indulgence in both controlled and illicit substances, details of some tales are a bit hazy."


Judge, a screenwriter and animator famous for such works as "Beavis and Butt-Head" and "Office Space," illuminated viewers about the underrated and misunderstood world of country music in the first season of "Tales from the Tour Bus," which aired in 2017. The series explores the careers of musicians like George Jones, Tammy Wynette and Waylon Jennings by interviewing producers, band members and the artists themselves about their wildest stories from the road. Clever, concise splicing of interview clips with unobstructive commentary comes to life in each episode through animation.


The show's second season, which aired this past winter, delves into another underappreciated genre of American music: funk.


The first episode of the series, "George Clinton," picks up where the first season left off. For fans of rock history, the episode is the perfect combination of comedic anecdotes and information about Clinton and his various musical acts, including Parliament, Funkadelic, The Brides of Funkenstein and more.


For example, Tom Vickers, Parliament's "Minister of Information," whatever that means, tells a story about how Clinton took out as many loans as possible to build a giant spaceship from which he would descend to the stage during live shows, a scene straight out of "This Is Spinal Tap." Vickers points out that the timely release of "Star Wars" after this galaxy-inspired tour was a major factor in Clinton's subsequent worldwide fame.


Other informative punchlines hit one after another in the episode, creating perfect pacing. Once, Clinton, tweaking from cocaine withdrawal, got confused in the studio when his producer was rewinding a tape. To save face, he freestyled words over the sonic mess, producing one of his greatest hits, "Atomic Dog."


Lines that Clinton delivers through his animated counterpoint - like, "At a certain point, LSD stopped working for everybody... So I started doing crack" - rekindle the same brand of comic timing that had viewers laughing out loud in season one. At the same time, Clinton's immense influence on music, like the resurgence of funk influence in '90s hip-hop, does not go unmentioned.


Unfortunately, watching the following episodes compares to watching "Scarface" for the first time. One expects greatness, but it's too long, nothing happens and there are a lot of drugs and guns for no reason.


The show explores Rick James, a fascinating funk icon, through a meandering two episodes that develop a trite, distracted, fall-from-grace character arc with few punchlines. Episodes about Bootsy Collins or Morris Day and The Time, who are influential though lesser known artists, promise insight, but reveal disappointingly little about their subjects. Instead, they focus on James Brown, the artists' mentor.


In addition to this coverage, Judge devotes two more episodes to Brown. At this point, Judge seems to have forgotten the name of his show entirely. Far from the slapstick rock 'n' roll chronicles of the show's first season, the "James Brown" episodes wander through a sobering documentary with too much biographical information, not enough music and almost no jokes at all. The replacement of lighthearted comedy with dry, serious content renders the animation absolutely discordant.


After watching effectively four episodes about James Brown's controlling personality, the final episode, "Betty Davis," saves the series.


Davis, a brilliant though ultimately unsuccessful funk singer, cultivated a distinctive energy with her huge attitude, unabashed lyrics and exceedingly cool personal style. Though she had the makings of a star, Davis was too far ahead of her time to achieve success, instead encountering resistance to her dominant sexual presence. At the time, critics wrote her off because she had once been married to Miles Davis, or they lumped her in with controversial Blaxploitation figures. She eventually disappeared from the public eye after suffering nervous breakdowns.


Following with most of the other episodes in this season, "Betty Davis" delivers no jokes, but it does a service to the viewer by spotlighting a forgotten icon who deserves recognition for her talent and nerve.


Perhaps the overarching problem with season two lies in the fact that Judge has taken the show too seriously as a vehicle for rock education after the positive response to season one. By packing intense amounts of biographical information into each episode at the expense of comedy, he betrays his passion for the subject, but also suffocates the viewer.


Despite the general sluggishness of most of this season, "George Clinton" and "Betty Davis" do stand out as solid episodes that fans of rock history will not want to miss. As Clinton says in the former episode, "Hey man, the funk is its own reward."



 
 

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