Middleditch and Schwartz

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Series: Middleditch & Schwartz

Where You Can Stream It: Netflix

The Pitch: Middleditch & Schwartz is a two-person improvised show. Based on a short audience Q&A where someone in the crowd tells the duo about something they’re exciting about or dreading in the future, Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley) and Ben Schwartz (Sonic the Hedgehog, Parks and Recreation) create characters, scenes, and storylines off the cuff, not knowing where they’ll end up, all based on what they’ve just hear from the audience. No hooks, no gimmicks, no scripts, and no props besides two chairs. It’s two great friends with incredible comedic instincts making everything up in front of your eyes. Every show is totally different, and you never know what’s going to happen next.

Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: Right now, you could probably do with an extended period of hearty laughter as the we continue to tread the boiling waters of hell on Earth. Look no further than three completely improvised comedy specials from Thomas Middleditch and Ben Schwartz, partners in comedy who have each starred in a variety of movies and TV shows you know and love. The two actors also happen to be expertly trained comedians who went on tour over the past couple years, doing long-form improv shows for sold out audiences across the United States. Three of those were recorded at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, and they’re now available in perpetuity on Netflix.

In the first improv specal, Middleditch and Schwartz concoct an oddball wedding where a sixth grade romance could upend the nuptials. The second special hones in on a law school class where a weird otherworldly secret forces a Breakfast Club-like group of students to band together despite their differences. And finally, the third one focuses on two friends who are each pursuing their photography dream jobs only to suddenly have an existential crisis about their place in the world and what they really want.

If those premises don’t sound like the makings of comedy, you don’t know how wrong you are. Each of these specials, a little less than one hour long, are full of some of the biggest, most consistent, and most frequent bouts of laughter I’ve had in a long time. Whether Middleditch & Schwartz are creating a series of scenes tied together by an overarching narrative thread or letting a single scene play out to an insane conclusion, these shows are gutbustingly funny and illustrate what a mastery of improvisational comedy this dynamic duo has. The callbacks alone will leave you in awe, especially a certain spectral twist in the first special.

What makes Middleditch & Schwartz stand out from the improv that most audiences are used to, such as Whose Line Is it Anyway?, is the fact that these shows try to tell an improvised story with beginning, middle, and end, all while making the story funny without going for cheap, easy laughs. Adding to the entertainment is the fact that Middleditch and Schwartz aren’t afraid to break character from time-to-time, especially when they seem to have forgotten where certain characters are on stage or even what their names are. Sometimes they question the decisions that are about to be made, intuitively knowing where the other’s mind is going. This is a bit of an improv no-no, but it makes for such amusing banter and it never derails the show, so it doesn’t even matter.

So for a quick pick-me-up during these uncertain times, sit yourself down for a few hours to watch all three improvised comedy specials from Thomas Middleditch and Ben Schwartz. Maybe even space them out to let the good times roll a bit longer. You will be exhausted from laughter and will immediately want to seek them out whenever they go on tour again (they currently have some shows set up in Texas for September). Enjoy!

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