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The Heart, She Holler Is the Most Frightening Comedy on Television

When American Horror Story debuted last month, not a few people noticed that the supposed "horror" tale trafficked in about as much camp as it did scares. But then again, horror and comedy have always been inextricably linked: Both inspire instinctual, gut-level reactions that don't particularly stand up to intellectual scrutiny, and really shouldn't have to. Screams and laughter are both necessary forms of emotional release, after all. But whereas American Horror Story presents horror to often comedic effect, Adult Swim's newest live-action series The Heart, She Holler presents the opposite: Comedy that's just straight-up frightening. But assuming you can get past this show's surface-level repulsiveness, it's actually kind of amazing.

The Heart, She Holler is essentially a nightmarish poison-Valentine to the deep South, a faux soap opera somewhere in the nexus between The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Dallas. In an unusual move, Adult Swim is airing all six episodes this week on consecutive nights (Part 3 airs tonight; if you have cable, you can watch Parts 1 and 2 via Adult Swim's HBOGO-like "Gold Episodes" streaming service here). The premise centers on three inbred siblings (Patton Oswalt, Kristen Schaal, and Heather Lawless) who fight over their late father's estate, which essentially comprises the entire hick town in which they reside, Heartshe Holler. Oswalt plays Hurval, an intensely mentally handicapped man who grew up feral in a sealed cave and who gets reintroduced to society just in time to inherit his eccentric father's "fortunes." Schaal plays his trampy sister Hurshe, in makeup and costumes that rival Jerri Blank's for sheer visual audacity. Best of all, Lawless plays Hambrosia, a frightening, telekinetic weirdo with the mannerisms of an even less socialized Carrie White. To say these characters are off-putting would be putting it mildly, but it's never less than entertaining to see the depths to which these actors are willing to go for the sake of weirdness.

Series creators Vernon Chatman and John Lee have been exploring the far reaches of their respective comedic ids for years now, having previously wrought Wonder Showzen, Xavier: Renegade Angel, and Delocated onto unsuspecting stoner insomniacs. The Heart, She Holler is actually a bit of a kissin' cousin to an infamous Season 2 Wonder Showzen episode, "Horse Apples," in which Lawless, David Cross and Zach Galifianakis portrayed the most ludicrous and disturbing version of a deep South comedy show possible. The Heart, She Holler stretches that tone into more of a telenovela style, yet continues to effortlessly offend with its dozens of incest jokes, casual violence, and absolutely stomach-churning visuals. Or, take the scene involving the comedian Godfrey dressed as a gold-painted street performer "robot" who answers to the acronym "NWORD." I like to think I've become pretty immune to shock-humor, but this show's energetic pursuit of making me uncomfortable is almost charming in how shameless it is. Mission accomplished, guys!

Don't get me wrong, there's a ton of genuinely hilarious stuff. The wigs alone ensure a more conventionally sketch-y comedy sensibility, and and there are some visual jokes reminiscent of some of Monty Python's more joyful moments. Also, this recurring joke about extras reacting to off-screen violence made me laugh out loud every time:

But for every harmless throwaway gag, there are at least five can't-unsee moments. For some reason I was rattled by this scene, in which Hambrosia performs a sonogram on the demon-eyed fetus inside her skull:

Spoiler alert? Just kidding, very few things make any kind of coherent sense in The Heart, She Holler, so I could essentially tell you everything that happens and you'd still have a uniquely disturbed viewing experience. "All right, who slipped LSD into my Squeez-It?" you will ask.

So what, then, is the value of a comedy that would mostly prefer to give you nightmares? It's hard for me to intelligently explain why anybody should watch something as intentionally unpleasant as The Heart, She Holler, in the same way I probably shouldn't try to explain why I find certain jokes funnier than others, or certain horror scenes scarier than others. More than any show I've seen recently, The Heart, She Holler is an insanely objective experience, a PoMo comedy Rorschach onto which a person could project basically any meaning or takeaway value. I know that much of it disturbed or repulsed me, but I also know that I found it exhilarating and original. It's as though the creators distilled every horrible thing they could imagine into 11 minutes of occasionally hilarious nightmare fodder, and maybe that's a healthy thing? Like how we'll purposely inoculate ourselves with a small dose of virus in order to gird ourselves against something far worse. The Heart, She Holler might be terrifying, but I'll take its terrors over the real world's any day of the week.


Anybody else been watching this thing? What do YOU think so far?

Comments (16)
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I like the live action shows on AS, but I prefer the animation. No problem with the anime. The Heart, She Holler was funny the first time. Still amusing the second time. But by the fifth time they showed it, it had gotten old. When I turned on my television and saw that they had FINALLY stopped airing it, I was relieved. Overkill, Adult Swim. Over. Kill.
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Bring on more animation! Love the animated and claymation like Moral Oral. That is the Adult Swim I turned onto. This show is growing on me but think they should stop the live action shows and concentrate on adult level animation. And enough with the f'n anime! It sucks!
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Adult swim and Cartoon network used to be good in general, now these live action shows aimed at mocking real shows that also arent funny or entertaining makes unentertaining squared and as a hole makes this a festering pit of tv, no these are not funny and need to go away forever
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Nothing crazier than waking up past 4am and seeing this show on TV. Wondered if I was dreaming
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I've never tried LSD before in my life but once I woke up at 4 am and saw one of their weird ass shows, I was convinced I had taken a ride.
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Adult Swim is making some of the funniest comedies on television currently - its hospital procedural and cop show procedural parodies, "Childrens Hospital" and "NTSF:SD:SVU" are both hilarious. The best however is Chris Elliott's "Eagleheart". They are better and funnier than most sitcoms on television.
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Should of seen AS when it was good... or mild... or passable... or even bland
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Staff
LOVE Eagleheart so much!! Can't wait until it comes back.
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I didn't realize there was a new episode every night this week...runs off to adjust DVR.
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Did you mean "mission accomplished"? It says million. Then again it sounds appropriate for the latest Chatman/Lee car crash of awesome! I want to see this ultra-soon.
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Staff
Whoops! Should really try to write these sober for once.
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Adult Swim could start a new animation renaissance if they wanted to, but instead, they keep wasting time and money.
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Have you ever experienced watching Adult Swim at 3am and being completely confused, amused, and wondering how the fuck is this on television all at once.

Watching AS every night is my job now.
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it's the first adult swim show i couldn't get on board with - shame as it looked so good - glad the rest of you like it just annoyed i couldn't



Missing Eagleheart, Children's Hospital, NTSF!!
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wow. i would love to see this and laugh my heart out. the extra screaming in your moving picture made me laugh too. :))
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I love it! all of the adult swim shows are so creative!!!
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