Directed by: Sam Jones
Distributed by: Max
Written by Alexander Reams
“Shit-pig would like to know if you have french fries”
At the height of the pandemic, countless stars flocked to podcasts as a new creative outlet at a time when productions were at a standstill. One trio that managed to rise above the standard fare of the oversaturated podcast world was Will Arnett, Jason Bateman, and Sean Hayes who collaborated on the wonderful “SmartLess” podcast (of which this writer has been a faithful listener for some time). The format they conjured up was based on improvisation and the spirit of spontaneity, one host brings a guest on and the other two don’t know who it is until they are revealed on the podcast. This has been a format that has worked for over three years and in an auditory medium it works wonders, a translation to a live show is a different story.
And that’s what Sam Jones’ six-part docuseries covers, this medium shift from their meets on Zoom to doing it all live. It’s covered through the wonderful black and white photography that has been showcased in many of the recent “Max” campaigns and rightfully so. It’s rare that cinematography is a highlight of a documentary, but here its lack of color allows the humor and emotions to pop even more, and for wonderful camera angles throughout the sequences at live shows. From the start of the show, it never feels scripted. All of their jabs and bits feel like high-school friends joking around and it’s continually funny, rarely do jokes fall flat. However, for all the laughs Jones doesn’t shy away from their failures. Episode 2 and the first half of 3 are centered on a guest that misfired and the effect it takes on each of them.
This cinematography I briefly harked on, but it’s worth mentioning as much as this show is being talked about, the framing of Sean Hayes on a plane is a better shot than almost any recent MCU film. Even a shot of David Letterman walking through a hall after the show feels gargantuan. It’s beautiful to behold and is only heightened by the fast-paced editing that never lets a setting feel stale. The employment of voiceover through establishing shots of the cities they visit allows for the continuation of reflection which is the emotional throughline in the show.
This rawness is what takes what was advertised as a surface-level docuseries with 3 prominent performers about their podcast and transforms it into a meditation on marriage and fatherhood for all three men, and their open discussions on this don’t feel like the traditional schpiel that performers have given in the past. Bateman and Arnett frequently hold court on the disadvantages of going on the road like they are, and towards the end of episode 3 showing more of Arnett’s personal life and what he grapples with. The balance of personal introspection with the lightheartedness that is associated with the podcast does see-saw but the tone of each episode is clearly defined early on. By the end of the tour, the emotions you would expect to be present are, exhaustion, not of the show, but because we’ve been on this journey with them from the get-go, and it’s a great feeling to not be tired by the show, but instead ready to go on another adventure with them, and this writer will be there when it happens.
“SmartLess: On The Road” Trailer