Brilliant and Boring


Glenn O'Brien's TV Party
Premiere Episode, December 18, 1978
Crusades Show, February 17, 1981
Since the Tribeca doc plucked only the most colorful moments from this late-'70s-early-'80s cable access show made by, for, and about Lower East Side pop artistes and the junkies who obsessed over them, the release of these two full-length episodes offers two crucial facts. One, Glenn O'Brien was more brilliant than we think. Two, his show was really, really boring. In 2005, TV Party's pace lags. The dead space and script lack grate. The guests (Fred Schneider, Debbie Harry, Basquiat, James Chance, Mick Jones), beyond their historical existence on tape, never say or do anything particularly interesting. Unscreened callers ask O'Brien if his refrigerator's running, and the pointedly (pointlessly) artistic camerawork hardly distracts from O'Brien's baptism by fire. But hey, that's just the premiere. By '81 O'Brien's turned his lazy talk show send-up into layers-deep performance art, no longer a host so much as a participant in the semi-improvised mayhem: Walter Steding and "Monk of Funk" Fab Five Freddy lead a band in medieval protest punk, O'Brien spouts pseudo-hippie liberalese, and Basquiat grafs the screen with real-time teleprompt Krylon. The effect's dizzying: audience members on-screen trying to make sense of O'Brien's "special message," and audience members years later at home, with the freedom of cable access television unspeakably foreign, understanding that message a bit too well—and with quite some envy.

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