Where were you on May 22 when you first saw that The Lonely Island was releasing a “visual poem” on Netflix at midnight?
I was just getting ready for bed when I saw the promotional tweet. I had work the next day, so staying up until midnight was out of the question. But I did make a point to wake up early enough so I could catch whatever this new project was before I left for the office.
“The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience” is classic Lonely Island humor in the sense that it probably started with a single joke that Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone found riotously funny and then decided to stretch to fill a half hour. It dropped on Netflix with little warning, and its content was just as random as its grand unveiling.
The most surprising thing about the “Bash Brothers,” though, isn’t that The Lonely Island decided to create an entire album around what Oakland Athletics stars Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco must have gotten up to during their primes. The biggest shock was how expertly produced the whole thing was, proving that The Lonely Island are true comedy artists.
The Netflix special follows Samberg’s Canseco and Schaffer’s McGwire through a series of loosely connected music videos as they chronicle what they assume must have been the highs and lows of their checkered careers. Canseco himself found the whole thing so amusing he offered to do a follow-up video with them.
Many of the headlines following its release made the same accurate point about what The Lonely Island were clearly parodying:
- “Move Over, ‘Lemonade’! The Lonely Island Drop Surprise Visual Album ‘Bash Brothers’” – Brian Welk, The Wrap
- “The Lonely Island’s ‘Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience’ is an Epic ‘Lemonade’ Spoof” – Dylan Kickham, Elite Daily
- “The Lonely Island Just Dropped a Beyoncé-Style Visual Album on Netflix” – Matt Patches, Polygon
As Schaffer himself put it in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, “And then after we had 10 or 11 songs, we thought, what’s the funniest thing to do with this? And we were like, ‘Well, a very serious visual album, a la ‘Lemonade’.’ So this is the fullest extent of a joke we could think of.”
Clearly, The Lonely Island were keenly aware they were making something in the same vein as Beyoncé’s now-classic visual album “Lemonade,” which was also a surprise release when it dropped in April 2016 accompanied by its own “visual poem” that aired on HBO.
Unlike Beyoncé, their goal wasn’t so much to tell their own stories, but pay homage to their upbringing through two of what must’ve been their childhood heroes. All three of them grew up and became friends in Berkeley, California, so the “Bash Brothers” plays like a culmination of buddies lovingly poking fun at a huge element of their formative years.
The two visual albums do have a few things in common. For one, they’re both putting specific people on blast. While “Lemonade” is (allegedly) Beyoncé’s response to her husband Jay-Z’s unfaithfulness, “Bash Brothers” endlessly mocks the (allegedly) steroid-fueled antics of Canseco and McGwire during their athletic heyday.
They also both happen to be musically and visually extraordinary. The only way to properly satirize “Lemonade” is to craft images just as elegant and stunning but also hilarious, which is exactly the needle The Lonely Island managed to thread. Plus, like such now-classics as “Sorry” and “Daddy Lessons,” most of the songs on “Bash Brothers” are unapologetic bangers.
Take “Oakland Nights,” which involves Canseco and McGwire trying to seduce two working women played by comedy veterans Jenny Slate and Hannah Simone while Sia’s voice blares out of a dancing, silk robe-clad Sterling K. Brown’s mouth. It’s an incredible takedown of how guys with too much money try to flaunt their wealth and terrible taste to get lucky.
Then there’s “Uniform On,” which starts out like a standard swag rap about their physical and sexual prowess but quickly turns into an unhinged account of how steroids affect their everyday lives. It goes to some hilariously weird places, like McGwire ripping out his own genitals because the steroids made him too strong.
There’s even a direct “Daddy Lessons” spoof in the form of “Daddy,” where they both admit that everything they do is to get the approval of their fathers. Oh, and we can’t forget “Focused AF,” which has a visual of Samberg, umm, having sex with a broom while running through a room full of cardboard cutouts of supermodel Kathy Ireland. Yes, that really happened.
The Lonely Island could’ve settled for a middle-of-the-road “Lemonade” satire that at the end of the day was nothing more than a silly trifle. Instead, they went all out on the visuals and the raps themselves. The verse in “Let’s Bash” where Samberg drops the name of every Major League Baseball team isn’t just grade-A comedy hip hop, but impressive hip hop in general.
It’s not like The Lonely Island are begging to be taken seriously as artists, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do just that. “The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience” is so immaculately crafted that, like the new high bar for Beyoncé that “Lemonade” set, whatever The Lonely Island does next will have to be judged on an entirely new scale.
As the Bash Brothers themselves dealt with, thus is the price of being extremely good at what you do.
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Featured image credit: Eddy Chen/Netflix
Joshua Axelrod has spent five years working in and around journalism for websites and publications like the Military Times, Washington Examiner FanSided. He graduated from the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism in 2014 and George Washington University’s media and strategic master’s program in 2018. He is about to begin a new phase of his career as a digital sports producer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.