The fact that you clicked this article after seeing the wacky title is a testament to your open-mindedness, as Nirvanna the Band the Show has a title (misspelled for legal reasons) that ensures only those willing to wade in the weird — or misguided Nirvana fans who think the show is related to the actual band — will try it out. This makes sense, given the humor of Nirvanna the Band the Show, because it’s one of the most surreal comedy shows and doesn’t go out of its way to explain its surrealism. Even if you recognize the creators from their web series back in the mid-2000s (which the famous Wii Shopping Channel song is from), this show is still surprising and sticks out among the array of other wacky comedies.
The premise is simple. Matt Johnson and Jay McCarroll are best pals, roommates, and bandmates (the only two people in Nirvanna the Band, in fact). These two friends want nothing more than to play a show at the Rivoli, a restaurant and club on Toronto’s Queen Street that hosts live music. The humor primarily comes from the ridiculous lengths Matt and Jay will go to in order to get that coveted Rivoli gig. From holding a bank hostage to demand that Nirvanna the Band plays at the Rivoli to trying to steal a Make-a-Wish kid’s wish, there are no wild measures that they won’t resort to. The fact that you never see them practice songs or play any kind of music related to their band makes this devotion even funnier.
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The dark and absurd humor could easily come off as mean at times, but it never does. This is because of how earnest the show is, due to its use of both a scripted narrative and candid filming all around the city. Matt and Jay (the characters, not the creators playing the characters) are ignorant, highly motivated, and kind of dumb, but their genuine friendship and commitment to such a random goal makes you simultaneously root and cringe for them. It helps that their comedic timing and improvisation are unbeatable as well.
The things they do in Nirvanna the Band the Show, like jumping onto the Toronto subway tracks or asking if they can 3D print a gun at the library, seem impossible to get away with. Yet somehow, they do get away with it, and it’s always hilarious. It’s made even funnier when you consider that most of the reactions from the people around them are genuine, as Toronto is just the kind of city where this stuff happens. Matt and Jay constantly take huge risks to both their social standing and health by filming these stunts candidly, but the payoff is worth it every time. You just can’t help but be endeared to these goofy manchildren as they scheme up increasingly crazy escapades.
Some of these escapades take the form of parodies or homages, but they aren’t hacky or trying too hard. These characters are so mentally stuck in the ’90s and obsessed with pop culture that it’s completely believable for them to frequently rent VHS tapes and reference old movies. There’s almost an elegance to how they take on enormous franchises like Star Wars and Jurassic Park, because it never comes off as just “remember this movie?” Instead, it is an authentic part of the show’s world, or at least the world that Matt and Jay think they live in.
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There’s also brilliant chemistry between Matt and Jay that can only come from years of real friendship. It adds a strange and almost wholesome aspect to the duo’s often shocking misadventures. The credits scenes are the best at conveying this real friendship, as Jay will play piano for Matt as he tries to win a race in Mario Kart 64, or the two will play Goldeneye 007 together while taunting one another in the most realistic depiction of young adult friendship I’ve seen on TV. You probably have a friend like Matt or Jay, which makes their dynamic stand out as personal.
As a Canadian, I couldn’t be more proud of this show, as it manages to be hilarious while also embracing and showcasing its homegrown setting, but its appeal stretches outside of native country. Nirvanna the Band the Show currently has two seasons, though a third has reportedly been completed and is caught in legal limbo due to the 2018 closure of Viceland Canada, which picked the show up originally. If you live in Canada, you can stream it for free through CBC Gem, while people outside of the country have to purchase the show through services like YouTube and iTunes (although only the first season is available for purchase). Regardless of the hoops that viewers have to jump through, it’s worth tracking down because of how it mixes its bizarre alternative comedy with its Canadian setting and the lovable dorky duo at its center in way that’s captivating and utterly unique.