Bill and Ted, and Vasiliy Petrovich makes three! Comedy tonight?
Not all comedies provide carefree entertainment. In the case of the Bill & Ted trio of features, there are strange threatening occurrences and paranormal death experiences. The franchise of sci fi comedies began in 1989 with Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It stars Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, and the late great George Carlin, and follows a couple of high school students, goofy California dudes, from their history class to adventures in time travel via a magical phone booth. They gather up a bevy of historical figures in hopes of passing their history course. If they fail, Ted’s father will send Ted to a military school, and Ted and Bill’s band, the Wyld Stallions, will itself become ancient history!
That film was a success with a young audience, a money-maker, and so in 1991 came the second feature in the Bill & Ted series, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. Still featuring time travel via phone booth, and there are evil robot clones of the two adventurers. Ted and Bill fight death, Satan, and enter a Battle of the Bands contest.
Yes, the events are absurd and sometimes stupid, but with superior actors like Reeves and Winters at the helm, how bad could these comedies be? So when Bill & Ted Face the Music became readily available for home viewing, I decided to catch up with this popular franchise. Not every viewer was impressed by the now middle-aged duo who seem never to have grown up, even though they have wives and grown daughters. But, once I became accustomed to the premise and the unusual genre, I enjoyed the film, or at least most of it.
In Bill & Ted Face the Music, the dudes are sent to an imaginative future world, and then to a hellish death world. They are given seventy-seven minutes to present the Wyld Stallions musical composition that will unite and save the world. Sometimes confusing and just plain dumb and inane, Bill & Ted Face the Music is sometimes clever. There are great special effects. And we meet folks like Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, and Mozart! Not a great comedy, but perhaps a fun way to spend an evening.
Stranger still and unsettling is Netflix’s release of Servant of the People, a Ukrainian TV sitcom from 2015 about Vasiliy Petrovich Goloborodko,a high school history teacher in Kyiv whose student secretly records him ranting about the corrupt state of Ukrainian government. The student posts the rant on You-tube and before you can say Volodymyr Zelenskyy, it goes viral, and the teacher is elected President of Ukraine.
Yes, President Zelenskyy was a television comedy star before he was Ukraine’s leader. And he is as talented a comic as he is a leader to the people of Ukraine. But I find the release of this series to be upsetting. It’s a well-done show, he is terrific, but is this the time to be laughing at Zelenskyy’s character? Is this the time to be watching a political satire of Ukraine government? For crying out loud, there even is a Putin joke. It’s funny, and yet I felt guilty even watching the first hour or so of it. I stopped watching. Kyiv looks sunny and safe, and now it’s in shambles. People are dead in Kyiv and throughout Ukraine. Genocide, mass graves, mass destruction. Why has Netflix released Servant of the People? Is it for audiences to respond with laughter, or a serious sharing of information? Or is it simply a blunder, an exercise in bad timing and bad taste?
Audrey Kupferberg is a retired film and video archivist and appraiser. She is lecturer emeritus and the former director of Film Studies at the University at Albany and co-authored several entertainment biographies with her late husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.
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