This Looks Amazing! The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience
At the risk of waxing hyperbolic, The Lonely Island are the greatest collection of creative geniuses in the history of the universe. LITERALLY everything that they do is brilliant. Their albums? Fucking love em. Played em a million times. I know the words to a lot of their songs. The lyrics to “Jack Sparrow?” Tattooed on my brain. Their movies? Love them all. Gushed about Hot Rod and MacGruber as Secret Successes for My World of Flops and added to the endless critical love-fest with a rapturous Sub-Cult entry on Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
I even have an ode to MacGruber in an upcoming Rotten Tomatoes book on movies critics deemed “Rotten” but are actually the best. Needless to say, when I saw that the Jorma Taccone-directed and co-written Saturday Night Live spin-off on a list of candidates to write about choosing it was a no-brainer. The challenge was limiting my valentine to the film to a mere 800 words.
The Lonely Island’s music videos and Saturday Night Live digital shorts? The best. The incontestable highlight of any Saturday Night Live episode. The Lonely Island’s contribution to the Oscar-nominated anthem “Everything is Awesome?” Awesome.
So when I saw that the trio was surprise-dropping a new special on Netflix I wasn’t just excited, I was fucking pumped. I was psyched. It felt like an unexpected gift from the universe. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. When I learned that it would be based on the simultaneously complicated and cartoonish legacies of baseball’s “Bash Brothers”, home run kings and steroids enthusiasts/advocates Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco I got even more excited.
It was another instance where I felt like the boys were making music specifically for me and my sensibility, that they were making fun of something that I thought only I remembered or cared about.
The ingenious premise of Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience is that at the height of their baseball glory, when their monstrous home runs helped the Oakland As score back-to-back World Series appearances, the duo secretly recorded a rap album to express their angst, roid rage, pride and, of course, seduce the ladies.
The “Visual Poem” begins with dour arthouse imagery and tremblingly pretentious voiceover about its muscle-bound home run hitting titans flying too close to the sun and burning their wings in the process. It’s a joke, of course, but in Bash Brothers and outside of if, McGwire and Canseco are figures of genuine tragedy.
McGwire and Canseco rose to dizzying heights of fame by cheating. The asterisk that would one day invalidate their extraordinary achievements in record books existed for decades inside their troubled psyches, never letting them forget that they had succeeded because they had cheated, and cheated flagrantly over a period of years, even decades, and consequently are frauds as well as champions, or at least some tricky combination of champion and fraud.
When McGwire and Canseco were shattering records and making major league baseball obscene amounts of money the league was willing, even eager, to look the other way, to play dumb about star athletes ending one season looking like Bruce Banner and opening the next one looking like the Incredible Hulk. So there’s an underlying pathos in even the goofiest moments rooted in our knowledge that the Bash Brothers would experience a fall as epic as their dramatic rise.
But before the fall the Bash Brothers were a thing of transcendent tackiness, a pair of mulleted meat-heads who earned their combined nickname both for bashing monster-sized dingers and for bashing their forearms together in a gesture of caveman, alpha male solidarity. They shared a genius for hitting homers as well as a screamingly open secret about the very predictable source of their incredible power. Here’s a hint: it comes in a needle that you shoot in your butt and is called “steroids.”
The opening song, “Jose & Mark” establishes the differences between these at once complementary and very different Goliaths on a musical as well as lyrical level. When Andy Samberg’s Canseco introduces himself he sings the word “Jose” with rapturous self-love, filled with Latin pride, swagger and effortless musicality. Fireworks boom as Jose celebrates himself and his ridiculous life of triumph and tragedy.
When Mark McGwire introduces himself, however, the music drops off completely and he doesn’t rap or sing his introduction so much as he stiffly states his name with the preternaturally caucasian awkwardness of a middle-manager introducing himself at a trade convention. It’s as dry and unappealing as an American cheese sandwich on Wonder Bread.
That’s the goofy allure of both the brilliant caricature of Jose Canseco here and the real thing: Jose is an overgrown child with no filter and no sense of self-awareness, a roided-out overgrown toddler who had the potential to be one of baseball’s all-time greats but has to settle for being one of baseball’s all-time great characters.
I’ll go further than that. I would argue for Jose Canseco as one of pop culture and sport’s great characters, a wonderfully over-confident doofus and Johnny Appleseed of performance-enhancing drugs whose oddball legacy includes once sending his identical twin to fight in his place in a celebrity boxing match, a ruse undone when people noticed that he and Ozzie have different tattoos.
McGwire may be a terminally white doofus but in the world of Bash Brothers, he’s an unexpectedly dope rapper. The idea isn’t just to imagine what it would look and sound like if Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco recorded a rap album in 1989 where they were honest and open about their dependence on anabolic steroids but to dream up a McGwire-Canseco joint that was dope as fuck, redolent of the Beastie Boys in snotty Licensed to Ill form one moment and the minimalist 808 attitude of late eighties era Oakland hometown hero Too Short the next.
In The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience, Big Mac and Jose embody Lonely Island fixtures: man-children with personalities so juvenile and terrible that it renders them more or less unfuckable, despite their money, power and fame. You wouldn’t want to fuck with, or fuck with these dudes even if their dicks worked, which is clearly not the case.
The steroids have done terrible things to their genitalia and their minds. They’re half-mad with roid rage as they try to win their father’s love and acceptance the only way they know how: by hitting monster home runs. They’re sad little boys in the bodies of gargantuan men surveying a lurid neon late 1980s dreamscape of silk robes and kimonos, Athletic days and Oakland nights. This is 80s kitsch at its most effortlessly sophisticated and cheesy.
Canseco is such a fruitful subject for satire that one of the special’s funniest moments is taken from the historical record, or at least Canseco’s version thereof. When Canseco says that he went on a date with Madonna and that she wants to have a Cuban baby with him but that he doesn’t find her physically attractive it is at once the single silliest sentiment in this wonderfully silly enterprise and something that actually happened, or at least Canseco claims it did.
I don’t know about you, but Canseco seems way too stupid to make shit up. Even if he does utter the occasional falsehood, I want to live in the world of Canseco’s imagination, because it seems like a magical, crazy place.
That’s the genius of The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience: it allows us to live inside Canseco’s magical brain for thirty mind-warping minutes. AND we get to leave eventually, before the experience drives us mad.
The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience is an eminently re-watchable treasure that angrily demands to be re-experienced every time you are as high as a kite, the kids are asleep and you need something to entertain you at eleven o’clock at night. Or so I would imagine.
Like pretty much everything The Lonely Island does, Unauthorized Bash Brothers is fucking awesome. But you knew that, didn’t you? That’s what brought you to this page. Bash Brothers deserves to be celebrated. It deserves all of the awards: Nobel, Peabody, Tony, Kid’s Choice Award, the Heisman Trophy.
AND while researching this article I learned that of course Jose Canseco has a podcast. OF COURSE! If y’all are REALLY interested I could listen to the podcast for a new feature called This Sounds Terrible. I am morbidly fascinated by what promises to be a much different, but equally surreal kind of Bash Brothers Experience.
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