Published in The Music (NSW, VIC, QLD) and on theMusic.com.au, Nov 2017
Why ‘Nirvanna The Band The Show’ Deserves Your Attention
Canadian pals Matt Johnson and Jay McCarrol admit Nirvanna The Band The Show can be hard to digest at first, but it’ll only take a few episodes until you’re hooked.
“I would look at the trailer for this show, and be like, ‘That looks like a bunch of shit,’” tells Jay McCarrol, one half of Viceland’s Nirvanna The Band The Show. It’s nearing midnight in Toronto and only a few days before the show’s second season premieres, but his partner in crime, Matt Johnson, is in the thick of editing. “Jay doesn’t edit,” Johnson begins, with McCarrol relaxing at home on the other end of the conference call.
The series follows the childhood friends as they try to get a hometown show at Toronto venue the Rivoli, with each episode playing out an elaborate and convoluted plan, from inadvertently holding up a bank to trying to crash a Christmas parade, all while parodying iconic films and TV shows like Jurassic Park, Home Alone and Daredevil.
Initially emerging as a web series 10 years ago, it was brought back to life earlier this year by Viceland. “Our show doesn’t really look like or seem like any other show that people are groomed to enjoy, where it’s easy for them to settle in right away and know what they’re into,” McCarrol says.
“I think when people watch our show, and we’re lucky enough to get them for whatever reason, and they start to dig into it a little bit and give it a chance then it’s really rewarding for them.”
Its guerrilla-style production is one that Johnson used in his first feature film, The Dirties, which won a wealth of acclaim and even caught Kevin Smith’s attention and saw him release it.
Part of makes Nirvanna The Band The Show so charming is that loose production style and its hidden camera scenes, but it wasn’t something they initially gave too much thought to.
“We didn’t really plan so hard the whole, ‘Oh, we’re going to shoot it with unsuspecting people and weave them into the plot.’ The media likes to talk about it, but with us, it was just the easiest way that we could tell the story, and the funniest way,” McCarrol explains.
“You’re in dude,” Johnson adds, referencing a moment in season one where a brief and unplanned conversation with a stranger outside the venue gives the episode the perfect end note.
“Some of the time that’s where we’re getting our plots from,” he tells. “But other times, we’re trying to force certain things to happen, so that things will make sense. It kind of goes both ways.”
“We’re starting to know what we’re getting into when we shoot certain scenes,” McCaroll says.
While the storylines and grand plans in each episode are brilliant on their own, it’s McCarrol and Johnson’s onscreen characters and the dynamics between the two that really drives the show. Their real-life friendship is evident throughout and contributes to the natural flow of things, and something they lean on heavily throughout production, with McCarrol quick to state that neither of them are “proficient or elegant writers”.
“We don’t really write the show,” he admits. “We write what we think is a good premise…we always end up looking back at a rough cut and saying, ‘Okay, well only half of this is working,’ and, ‘Look at what just happened here with this person on the street. We need to explore that.’ So we go out and re-shoot. You can see that our hair changes a lot if you look closely,” he laughs.
The absurdity of their onscreen personas gets amplified in the season two. “Some of that stuff is some of my favourite stuff that we’ve ever done,” Johnson says on an episode entitled The Buddy, which finds the perfect blend of character development and hidden camera content. “I think what Jay and I think is really funny is more of the drama,” he continues. “The characters are basically brain dead in many ways, but then they’re experiencing these complex emotions.”
Most episodes begin in their apartment, with the duo messing around or coming up with another scheme. “A lot of people would say that’s just what they want to see,” McCarrol states. “We would say that too sometimes, but really what drives it forward is when we can finally come together and tell a compelling story with a good backbone of characters that make sense off of each other.”
“You’ve got a good example of that in your own backyard,” Johnson adds. “The first episode of Summer Heights High, Jay and I go back to over and over and over and over again, in terms of character.”
Johnson’s appreciation of Aussie talent stems from his friendship with local filmmaker Dario Russo, the creator of SBS comedy Danger 5. “[Danger 5] is another Australian original that, in my opinion, is really, really excellent.”
“Are we just naming Australian things we know, like Tim Tams?” McCarrol asks. “No, no, these are Australian television shows, Jay. Very important,” Johnson responds.
The conversation continues, with a recommendation of Russell Coight’s All Aussie Adventures thrown their way before the pair engages in a conversation reminiscent of what you’d see onscreen. “I’m really liking The Deuce right now,” McCarrol says. “It’s not Australian,” Johnson responds. “I thought he just asked if we were watching any shows?” “No, he said Australian shows.” “Well, I’ll just tell him off the record then, The Deuce is a good show. James Franco is exactly how you want him in it.”
The turnaround between seasons was lightning fast in comparison to other shows, and while they’re developing praise from the likes of Rick & Morty creator Justin Roiland (“one of the best shows ever made”), they’re not sure where it’ll go. “We don’t really even know what our expectations are for how the show can grow,” McCarrol admits.
“We’re in the middle of shooting [season 3] right now,” Johnson reveals. “I shouldn’t say in the middle of shooting it, but we’ve shot a good portion of it already.
“I hope that it doesn’t come out until next summer because I think that’s almost kind of when it needs to. But I don’t know what the plan is for when it will be delivered.”
“Every now and then, we pop our heads above water,” McCarrol says, “but for the most part, we’re just a little tiny team making it as best as we can.”
You can stream season one of Nirvanna The Band The Show via SBS On Demand.