I’ve imbibed Ancient Aliens sober many a times, probably an unhealthy amount. I get it: It’s an ambient, lulling salve, a comforting bath of ludicrousness, blinking lights, repetition, embarrassing graphics, and dubious sincerity. Ancient Aliens is a show about desperation for a grander conception of existence that also highlights our utter failure to grasp our meaninglessness. It argues for cosmic indifference and a grand-scheme higher power at the same time, for the vastness and nuance of human ingenuity and its fundamentally inadequacy. Action Bronson and crew’re are after dissecting these paradoxes, I think; their methods just take a detour through misfiring synapses and mind-numbing chemicals.
Think of Traveling the Stars: Action Bronson and Friends Watch Ancient Aliens as Blue Chips 3—same label’n’all—another baked and buttered, calorie-rich public domain gauntlet/copyright infringement ruse/corporate synergy machine. Once again, Bronson’s pulling from the trash bin to recycle on the company dime. His and Party Supplies’ Reebok-sponsored dual collaborations were a gleefully seedy, well-observed, and haphazardly collaged (in a good way) palette—one where a Jason Sudeikis and Bobby Knight Applebee’s commercial (no “Skip Ad,” apparently) and Iverson’s infamous practice excoriation are not just natural bedfellows pulled, unclipped and flat as a pancake, from the mediaverse teat, but’re also lopsidedly sutured to form a thesis statement.
Bronson is, bless his heart, that odd gourmand who gets off on sullying his finer tastes with processed junk—now it’s not just a musical and culinary predilection (defilement?); it’s also visual! Draw a straight line from his stoned, Nick Nolte-inspired YouTube pillaging, through his Fuck, That’s Delicious feasting, with a dash of his Ghostface denouncing (though, to his credit, he often leans in: “103 and Roosey,” “Tapas”), pulled through a lazy MST3K, Dinner and a Movie riff, and you wind up in the murky waters of TTS:ABAFWAA, where the primitive and the postmodern collide and double over—aliens schmooze with primitive man in the mind’s eye of the self-described “ancient astronaut theorists,” and Bronson and crew set their sights on the cosmos while luxuriating over their bongs and gonzo, phallic blunts with fetishistic intensity.
Let’s just dispel this: TTS:ABAFWAA is without merit. It’s all flubbed lines, missed marks, superficial free associations, distracted asides, fuck-it noodling, awkward random guests, faux-copyright infringement, and unfocused mysticism. No one engages with the show within the show at all, really. Inspired moments are seldom, and the rest is bloat; everything hinges on the moods and whims and shapes of the collective high. It’s sloppily improvised; every so often, someone in the group feels the sag and hazards a thought—without fail, it always falls apart as it comes out. The slack-jawed dead-air, where they watch the show and the wheels grind to a halt, is the most compelling. It’s all flashing lights, sloshed cameras, Action. This thing takes the terrible, gaudy aesthetic of Ancient Aliens and throws it down a garbage disposal, reveling in a vaguely new agey vibe and rampant, borderline-toxic insincerity. It’s an undeniably narcissistic Buddha-belly navel gaze, a bunch of abstracted masturbatory musings.
The production team is generally collectively asleep at the wheel as brain cells dwindle in real time. In retrospect, it feels near-miraculous that Dr. Lecter, the Blue Chips series, Rare Chandeliers (with fellow potato Alchemist), or Mr. Wonderful even came together. Non sequiturs double-as lazy time-filler scribbles. Graphics antics appear at random (or not at all, despite cues). There might be cheeseburgers in every episode—there’s definitely a Wendy’s runs at one point, and some indecipherable cheeseburger prank in another. Regardless, there’s definitely plenty of food—high and low-brow catering, depending on the cravings of Bronson as he holds court and demands banquets and homage at random. TTS:ABAFWAA takes “Arts & Leisure” to a its mesmerizing, live-action nadir. The world circles back to pre-Galileo narcissism, if ever a distinction could be drawn: Earth is the center of creation, the sun and moon and debris and random celestial objects be damned; they’re just satellites in the vacuum between the pinnacle of existence and the heavens. No coincidence that two of Bronson’s tapes (with an assist from co-host-lump Big Body Bes) kick start with these nuggets: “But, fuck that. Back to me,” and “Enough about me man, and more about myself.”
Lack of ambition is a truly modern luxury, right? Aren’t we crafting the world according to convenience? Isn’t the best escape from a modernity that strangles with efficiency to pad it with asinine filler? In a game that prizes amplified extravagance, Bronson hits on an old-school trope with modern existential undercurrents. The world turns faster, communication is clipped and utilitarian, and human locomotion is tightly coiled. Caring about not caring is a precious resource. Waxing poetic about not waxing poetic is a legitimate skill. Opening the mind to luxuriate in its emptiness is…something. And yet, it’s also shameless branding and self-promotion that contradicts to the core—a character on the rise, and a cable channel investing in a mascot and looking to solidify a demographic lusting for irreverence. Call it corporate-sponsored bizarre late-night public access—not quite “Noah’s Arcade Presents Wayne’s World,” but close.
It’s hang-out comedy at the edge of tolerability, the sketches and running commentary of “Pouches of Tuna” (or just the sordid history of hip hop filler skits in general—final vegetable Knoxledge being the crew’s Harpo, just to add) made sentient. The addled minds keeping this shambling production together (or perpetually falling apart) increasingly lose their grip on what they’re doing—the flubs are no longer endearing and vivid but instead’re cheesy and estranging. At least Melissa Etheridge gets a chance to hit back for “5 Minute Beats 1 Take Raps.” All the while, the slouched throng melds into the green screen, talking to and gawking at the likes of Dave Childress, what with his pinched voice and predilection for button-down denim shirts, and articulate-cartoon, ascot enthusiast Giorgio Tsoukalos. True to its lethargic, topsy-turvy Loiter Squad-esque take, Tyler, The Creator even turns up (and Earl Sweatshirt in episode 1) as the attention deficient Tom Servo the show needs in episode 2, a floating “G” hovering above the lopped-off top-half of his head—if that’s not a bellwether, I’m at a loss.
The all-consuming desire to be totally and utterly self-serving is infectious and unflattering simultaneously. Oh, to be an unabashed consumer who travels the world to stuff face and bark orders. It’s not so much a persuasive argument for legalization as an unbridled deep-dive into cannabis abuse in all its glory and gluttony and sloth. Gotta be something to be said about creating a show for no one other than those lackadaisically creating it, right? Can indiscriminate scoffing be a way of life? At least it’s numbingly, garishly unique. Always leave ’em on a moment of someone lookin’ high and foolish. This is the dissipating bitter burnt stench emanating from the back of the throat after spitting or inhaling fire. Has there ever truly been a trash show meant to kill an hour that is itself a bunch of people killing an hour watching a show? That and the infinity of: Me watching neo-slackers watching armchair alien theorists envisioning theoretical extraterrestrials who are chilling out and watching us all (i.e. me watching them watching them envisioning those observing me watching…). Trippy/deep/contact high/brain melt??
This article was written by Oliver O’Sullivan, a writer for dusk magazine.