Nirvanna The Band The Show – Review

What a change a bit of distance makes. I’d say the new Viceland Show, ‘Nirvanna The Band The Show’ adds about 15 metres to each camera operator.

Unlike the excellent ‘Nathan For You’, cameras aren’t hovering in a subject’s eyeline at all points, reminding them that this is a show. This is filmed in Toronto, not Los Angeles. These Canadians going about their day don’t seem to suspect that anyone could possibly be making a TV show here, dedicated to these two losers.

This bizarre new Viceland comedy is a scripted narrative about two long time best friends, Matt and Jay, struggling and sneaking to get booked to play a gig at a local music venue, The Rivoli.

A simple set-up, except that The Rivoli is a real place, with real staff, and a real booking agent, actually operating outside of the show. All of whom are unaware that they are constantly the subject of this dumb television show.

The elevator pitch, ‘Flight of the Conchords’ meets ‘Da Ali G Show’, ‘Nirvanna The Band The Show’ is a show unlike other scripted narrative comedies. It’s small scale, it’s personal, yet it can be deeply and deliberately uncomfortable. They use people on the street in their stories. Matt and Jay possibly can’t afford a cast, but are definitely taking advantage of having access to Viceland’s legal team.

Each episode follows a different scheme to hit the big time, from two people desperate to be part of something bigger than themselves. This could involve trying to create a “Cool” band photo to impress the booking agent, or something more elaborate, like convincing a real life projectionist at a real life screening at the real life Sundance Film Festival to swap in your self-promoting film with some actual filmmaker’s real production at the last minute, without their knowledge, much to the confusion of the audience. But as polite and respectable cinema-goers, they just sit through it anyway and take it as a meta-artistic statement. Probably.

Much like Nathan Fielder, people really don’t seem to suspect these guys, because they come off as so powerless, reeking of a (played up) awkwardness and desperation. But while ‘Nathan For You’ is a show about a lonely man surrounded by cameras, Matt and Jay hide from theirs at all times. Two camera operators hide down either end of the street with zoom lenses on them, pulling their gear in and out of their backpacks.

Until of course, everyone gets caught and gets thrown out of the building. An occurrence that happens with increased frequency throughout the show.

Matt Johnson is the kind of filmmaker that critics have been telling you to keep your eye on. His previous two features, ‘The Dirties’ and ‘Operation Avalanche’ are fascinated with sneaking genuine performances out of unsuspecting members of the public. The scope of this series shows that he’s more than just a bag of meta-tricks. When it’s anchored by a true humanity, it gains strength. The chemistry of these two friends is seriously infectious.

This show is bold. It’s uncomfortable. It experiments with the form, and sometimes it feels, with its weirdo references and obscure jokes, that it’s been made purely for me, at the expense of any other audience member. But bottom line, it’s completely sheer bloody stupid fun. And I feel that’s worth supporting.

‘Nirvanna the Band The Show’ is currently screening Wednesday nights on SBS Viceland, and can also be found SBS On Demand. Check out the trailer on Vimeo.

Riley James


Review by Riley James.