The goofy ‘Time Traveling Bong’ is a stoner comedy with a social conscience
Sci-fi and stoners have a funny relationship together. Perhaps it’s because the surreal visuals of the sci-fi genre cater towards consumers of THC. But it’s also possible that the heightened reality of science fiction movies and TV shows provides viewers with an immersive, trippy adventure, especially if time and space travel are involved. What’s even more fascinating is when stoners and sci-fi combine to form a truly psychedelic and hilarious experience. Comedy Central’s three-part special “Time Traveling Bong” takes the mixed subgenre of sci-fi stoner comedy a step further, showing that you can learn a lot about the past by simply being in it.
“Time Traveling Bong” is as kooky and silly as you would expect and bears a similar plot to other time-traveling stoner comedies like “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and “Hot Tub Time Machine.” But thanks to the comedic chemistry of its starring “Broad City” leads Ilana Glazer and Paul W. Downs and their socially conscious writing (helped by Downs’ wife Lucia Aniello), “Time Traveling Bong” develops into something much smarter to compensate for its complete ridiculousness.
After weed-loving slacker cousins Sharee and Jeff (Glazer and Downs) find and smoke from a mysterious glass water bong, they are transported into different periods of time, such as the Salem witch trials, the Stone Ages, the early 1960s and ancient Greece. The two explore these realms of history and relish in what each time period has to offer, only to later realize that they don’t actually like living in the past. Thus, they begin their quest to find their way home.
Because the special is separated into three different parts, each titled “The Beginning,” “The Middle” and “The End?,” it’s difficult to build character development in such a short amount of time. But “Time Traveling Bong” does its best to make Jeff and Sharee into grounded, albeit somewhat clueless, human beings.
Similar to Glazer’s “Broad City” persona, Sharee has an optimistic attitude while stuck in her time traveling, partaking in cavemen orgies and helping raise a young Michael Jackson in order to give him the childhood he never had. That being said, Sharee also faces some obstacles along the way, especially when she is immediately cast as a witch in 1600s Salem, while Jeff is praised by the townsfolk, oblivious to their blatant sexism. In addition to his role on “Broad City” and his recent stint on Netflix’s “The Characters,” Downs continues to showcase his funny side here in “Time Traveling Bong,” channeling Jeff as a nice-guy loser whose inability to ejaculate causes him sexual frustration and a sense of ineptitude. When he and Sharee are stuck in the Stone Ages, Jeff becomes so agitated and anxious from having rough intercourse with a few cavewomen that he regretfully asks his cousin, “Can you imagine how terrifying it is to be in a sexual situation where at any moment you could be overpowered?” That kind of comment adds onto the show’s satirical, thought-provoking commentary on the theme of women’s rights in history, which only continues to highlight the qualities of “Time Traveling Bong.”
Despite Downs and Glazer’s committed performances and the special’s unapologetic wackiness, “Time Traveling Bong” is slightly flawed in its execution. Each episode shows Sharee and Jeff’s attempt to fix the past in each era they enter, but they end up making things worse every time. After saving and transporting a few Southern slaves from 1800s to the 1960s, Sharee and Jeff understand that maybe it wasn’t the best decision, considering that Black civil rights were still not recognized. Then, the slaves are swept up by the American army and decide to go to Vietnam, making matters much worse for Sharee and Jeff. The two keep making the same mistakes without realizing the consequences, even if it’s for the greater good of humanity. Then again, this is a sci-fi stoner comedy.
Overall, “Time Traveling Bong” does a tremendous job of recreating the past, with the production design almost perfectly matching each period’s setting, politics and societal norms. Downs and Glazer seem like they’re having a good time with what they and Aniello have created, and considering their “Broad City” fan base, they don’t disappoint at all. Even with our society’s current tumultuous state, “Time Traveling Bong” makes the case that there really is nothing like the present.