The makers/stars of the cable access sketch comedy show “Pretty Things” sure look like they had some naughty fun here, dressing up in drag and putting on their clever little skits. If only they’d let us in on the joke! This collection, presumably the show’s “highlights”, offers about a dozen or so sketches, the longest of which are only a few minutes in length. (Not every joke fails, but at least the ones that do aren’t very long.) Based out of L.A., “Pretty Things” is the brainchild of Michael Lucid, a former NYU student-turned independent filmmaker. Lucid, along with an attractive young actress (whose name remains unknown!), features prominently in nearly every sketch of the show. Inexplicably, both Lucid and the actress are often dressed in drag, their genders reversed. (The actress plays a male only occasionally, while Lucid tarts it up for every scene he’s in). At times, this shtick works well and I found myself laughing almost in spite of myself, while more often than not it grows painfully thin.
At its best, “Pretty Things” is wonderfully vicious black comedy, sparing no one and no thing its bite. My favorite skit, called “Popcorn” appropriately enough, takes place in an art house movie theater, where the snotty theater workers mercilessly mock the moronic, “pseudo-intellectual” patrons. These patrons, who are dehumanized as sketches on cardboard, in turn make idiotically gushing remarks about “art” films with titles like “The Duchess’ Picnic”, “Almost A Woman”, and (my favorite) “Fudge on Sunday”. A simply brilliant send-up of theater workers, theatergoers, and art films all wrapped into one.
Another great skit, this one untitled, is about an irritatingly perfect girl named Erica and her just plain “normal” friend Tamara. We all knew people like Erica, who were off falling in love in Europe on spring break and doing other such “amazing” things all the time, while the rest of us were home reading Montesquieu for class. As Erica, Lucid is at his twisted, gender bending best. He’s also pitch-perfect as a clueless woman named Opal, who mistakes her best friend’s offhand remark about “wishing she was a guy” as her dying wish. Needless to say, the results are disastrous, hilarity ensues.
Those three sketches (the third one was simply called “Opal”) are by far the best things in this collection. I’d love to say the rest was “so brilliant I’m appalled” (a more memorable quote from one of the cardboard moviegoers in the “Popcorn” sketch regarding a particularly “sophisticated” foreign film), but I think Lucid and company have some more work to do before they reach that level. Many sketches, such as “Bellacini – Entrepreneur”, “Prank Call”, and “What If?” are too clever for their own good and fall lamely flat. Others such as “Labyrinth Dancer” (about a woman’s recurring nightmare of being chased by an evil dancer in 80’s aerobics garb) and “Chance Meetings” (where a mysterious lady reads chance meetings from the newspaper) are just plain creepy.
The “Pretty Things” players, especially Mr. Lucid himself, display some true comedic chops and a wickedly bizarre sense of humor. They make good use of their obviously limited means with creative set designs and campy wardrobe. Yet, they also seem smart enough to know that creative set designs and campy wardrobe alone do not make for good comedy. For the most part, the campiness is just the backdrop for the real jokes (an effect that is sometimes neutralizing). One wonders though, is it even comedy they’re after here? I doubt they even know themselves, but at least they’re having such a good time doing it! (I’m sure there’s even an audience for this sort of thing.)