The Strange, Successful, Self-Contained Universe of ‘Kroll Show’

In the Season 2 premiere of Kroll Show, viewers are introduced to a new character, Liz’s niece Denise. A few minutes after her first appearance, she meets a creepy photographer, played by Will Forte, who whisks her away. She isn’t seen for the next ten episodes until, seemingly out of nowhere, she returns in the season finale that aired last night. This is all normal on Kroll Show, a Comedy Central sketch show that does truly admirable work with continuity.

There has been plenty of acclaim for Kroll Show during its two-year run, mostly focused on its slate of eerily familiar fake reality shows. There is Dad Academy, a VH1-ready show that takes deadbeat teens and teaches them how to be fathers-to-be; PubLIZity, a fan favorite that centers on two horrendous PR agents, both named Liz; Gigolo House about a group of gigolos who live together with a strict “work hard and play hard” policy; and so on. All of these shows are spot-on, so horrible and absurd that it’s hard to believe they aren’t real. But my favorite thing about Kroll Show is the continuity that exists throughout the episodes, a surprising narrative that ties together all of these strange and fucked-up characters.

It’s worth mentioning, first, that the sketches on Kroll Show do work as individual sketches. There are some recurring sketches that aren’t dependent on this fake universe, such as the brilliant Wheels, Ontario, which mimics the Degrassi format and mines laughs from oft-joked-about Canadian stereotypes. This season turned Wheels‘ main “actor” Bryan LaCroix into a Justin Bieber-like superstar, even quickly photoshopping a fake TMZ article to coincide with Bieber’s legal troubles. (Wheels has its own, internal continuity, though, as seen in the super-Canadian PSA “Get Out!“). Then there is the weirdly wonderful “Oh, Hello” duo, who have made it impossible to hear the word “tuna” without laughing, and some odd standalone bits like “The Legend of Young Larry Byrd.”

It’s common for sketch shows to have recurring characters, but Kroll Show takes everything one step further. Nick Kroll and his writing team have created a whole alternate universe. All of these reality shows exist in the same fictional world, where characters pop up in various sketches (or reality shows) as “themselves” when their original endeavors don’t work. There are also surprisingly strong narrative arcs that tie together the show’s many parts, making it easy to view some of these sketches as mini-television shows. Early in the season, we learn that Liz B. from PubLIZity is pregnant, just as C-Zar begins his schooling at Dad Academy. Liz keeps the father a secret from everyone (though the audience is privy), and her pregnancy runs throughout the entire season, as do C-Zar’s halfhearted attempts at fatherhood. (Also of note, just for the sheer hilarity of it, is how Liz G. keeps forgetting Liz B. is pregnant and reacts with a mixture of surprise, horror, and disgust every time she’s reminded).

Another season-long narrative focuses on Dr. Armond, last season’s plastic surgeon whose advertisements fooled a few people, who is now accused of murdering his girlfriend. The months leading up to his trial are chronicled on his reality show, Armond of the House (produced by none other than PubLIZity!), and eventually culminate in the courtroom (where he’s represented by the always delighted and always delightful Ron Funches). The trial (seen on Can I Finish?) brings in Farley from Gigolo House and Liz B. from PubLIZity, and neither are too surprising because Kroll Show has created a world where we are used to these characters overlapping, slipping into each others’ lives.

Last night’s Season 2 finale, “Blisteritos Presents Dad Academy Graduation Congraduritos Red Carpet Viewing Party” (which featured an odd collection of guest appearances: Laura Dern, Seth Rogen, and Katy Perry), brought together all the major players at the Dad Academy graduation and the Rich Dicks movie-themed party. It may be a little much to say that I was emotionally invested in these characters throughout the season, but I can definitely admit that there was a part of me that was continually rooting for C-Czar to better himself, and for Liz to accept him. It’s the closest I’ve gotten to “shipping” on a sketch show, and I found myself thoroughly satisfied at the end of the finale, realizing that I had become somewhat attached to these horrible weirdos — a true testament to the writing on Kroll Show. There have been, and currently are, so many sketch comedies out there that it’s hard to create one that’s distinctive but Kroll Show has succeeded by setting its ambitions high.