Eye For Film >> Movies >> Dumbland (2002) Film Review
"I was just lookin' at that shed over there," says Randy, a moronic hulk of a man wearing a singlet and sporting three unevenly arranged teeth in his (as it will turn out) permanently gaping mouth. "I like that shed."
As these are the opening words to Episode One of Dumbland, they represent our first sighting of the series' protagonist and antihero – but the nervous neighbour at whose fence Randy is standing knows him all too well, and so responds with an overly defensive statement of the obvious: "That's my fence."
It seems important that this shed-owning neighbour (in an episode actually entitled The Neighbor), with his tall, thin frame, his mild manner and his neatly buttoned-up shirt collar, should bear more than a passing resemblance to series creator/writer/director/animator/composer David Lynch. For Randy embodies everything that Lynch deplores and fears – he is an uneducated, punch-happy, loud-farting, over-aggressive, animal-hating, foul-mouthed wife-beater who pants like a dog, who spends his days drinking beer and watching hyperviolent sports on TV, and who, according to his own words in Episodes Two (The Treadmill) and Four (A Friend Visits), likes to "take a shit in the yard".
Randy's menacing presence alone suffices to terrorise his neighbour into an unlikely (but, in context, clearly true) confession: "I'm a one-armed duck fucker." This surreal line clearly represents the point where the neighbour can no longer be straightforwardly identified with two-armed, presumably non-duck-fucking Lynch – but then, there is a bit of Lynch in all the characters of Dumbland (Randy included), who have each been not only drawn by the director, but also voiced by him.
In adopting a suburban domestic setting and focusing on a family unit (including Randy's Munchian wife, his excitable son Sparky, and even a mother-in-law more frightening than Randy himself), Lynch is referencing that most all-American of televisual genres, the sit-com, to show not only his nation's nightmarish underside of drooling, pugnacious idiocy, but also perhaps his own. We all have days when we feel a bit like Randy (or Frank Booth, or Killer Bob), and Dumbland invites us right in to the schizophrenic state of both America and of the poly-hyphenate Lynch himself. It is, needless to say, outrageously funny, but also manic, tense, irritant, disturbing and depressing.
Originally created exclusively for registered subscribers to davidlynch.com, and featuring perhaps the most primitive flash animation ever produced by a respected director, Dumbland is as amateurish in its form as it is inane in its content. Indeed, like Lynch's syndicated (and visually repetitive) cartoon strip The Angriest Dog In The World, Dumbland feels more like a doodle than the sophisticated, textured art of which he is certainly capable – but this serves only to underline the dreary inhumanity of Randy, an inchoate monster who barely merits colour or detail, and who has absolutely no nuance, depth or subtlety to him. Here, what you see is what you get, in a show that delivers the 'sketches' and 'punchlines' of comedy in the most literal fashion imaginable.
Playing out like a dumbed-down version of The Simpsons or King Of The Hill, the series spans only eight episodes (of a little over four minutes each), but this makes for 35 minutes of absurdist joy, culminating in Randy getting his comeuppance from a singing-and-dancing army of Lynch's favourite (and Randy's least favourite) animals, ants. This choreographed climax shows all the hallucinatory theatricality of The Lady In The Radiator song from Lynch's Eraserhead, and you might well be singing its catchy jazz-inflected schoolboy taunts ("asshole, shithead, dogturd") to yourself (or to anyone who will listen) for days afterwards. It is just further proof that Dumbland brings out the idiot in us all.Reviewed on: 29 Jun 2009