A gorilla is riding a unicycle while playing a bagpipe that shoots fire, and he’s far from the most absurd performer on stage at the moment.
Because just a few feet away from the grown man in the gorilla costume is Mike Myers in a game show host costume, performing the character of Tommy Maitland ― the new host of ABC’s “The Gong Show.” This is Myers’ first major acting role since the 2008 movie “The Love Guru.”
“Cheeky monkeys!” is Maitland’s catchphrase, even when there isn’t a gorilla onstage with him. In between introducing the oddball performers competing for a $2,000.17 check and golden gong trophy, Maitland makes penis jokes. So many penis jokes. He occasionally swears and refers to being high. “The Gong Show” isn’t quite the clean Disney fun for the whole network-cable-watching family that could have been expected.
If you’re confused ... well, that might be the point. Myers as Maitland begins the premiere episode with a thesis statement of sorts: “Turn off your brain. We’re just here for funsies.”
Safety in pure nonsense may be a winning formula in these “dark times” ― a term that is referenced throughout the premiere, as when one judge jokingly remarked that certain performances are an antidote to this era. The Donald Trump presidency isn’t explicitly mentioned, but it inherently causes a show so clearly escapist and nonsensical to make more sense.
“Saturday Night Live” struggled to be funnier than the real news they tried to parody last season. On an inspired wavelength, “The Gong Show” is going for true, 100 percent absurdism. In a way, if you squint, it’s 2017′s Dadaist masterpiece.
Confusion ― total and pure confusion ― is an admirable trait for a show to aim for, especially a network show meant for a large audience.
Mike Myers mysteriously left his lucrative Hollywood career for nearly a decade. He has now returned to host a revival of a gong-based game show while playing a character that looks nothing like him. When HuffPost emailed an ABC representative to inquire whether Myers would be doing any press, the reply kept up the charade.
The response: “The Host is Tommy Maitland, and he’s currently unavailable.”
A less generous take could be that “The Gong Show” has no idea what it wants to be. Zach Galifianakis is a guest judge in the pilot, which seems to be a nod to his satirical talk show, “Between Two Ferns.” But “The Gong Show” isn’t purely a satire of gameshows, it’s just, well ... ZANY!, fully earning those capital letters and exclamation point.
Yet, the insanity is endearing and makes sense in the totality. Everyone involved just went for it, which makes the whole thing hard to look away from. There’s an underlying message to this chaos — ABC IS SO CRAZY! — and maybe in 2017 that’s the kind of programming ethos we need.
In the words of Myers as Maitland while introducing guest judge Ken Jeong, “How many gongs would a Ken Jeong gong if Ken Jeong could gong gongs?” Or in other words, “Turn off your brain. We’re just here for funsies.”
“The Gong Show” airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.