Is it more important for an artist to deliver their message delicately to as many people as possible or do they tell the harsh truth at the risk of alienating their audience? Terence Nance’s Random Acts of Flyness tackles this question head on and the results will drive some away.
Random Acts may be the hardest show on television to describe. Calling it a sketch comedy would be an injustice (no pun intended.) The free flowing thirty minutes is almost like a fever dream with interviews, musical guests, and animated segments a part of the presentation. There is no obvious structure, though it does have a strong theme and message. The episode truly gives the impression the viewer has been given insight into Nance’s innermost thoughts.But does this dream like format with a strong social message work? The show is filled with unbelievable creativity. Social media has a recurring role in Random Acts and while there are not traditional segues, many of the scenes feature a smartphone or computer. (Even the ones that do not have a television featured prominently.) A segment of the show mixes stop motion animation to illustrate an interview beautifully. Many of the segments open with a dreamy animated sequences. There is a lot to look at and admire in HBO’s newest show.
Random Acts contrasts this beauty with extreme ugliness. What makes the show so uncomfortable is the repulsiveness is based in reality. The viewer does not have to imagine what America would be like if police brutality had been caught on a camera phone. More sobering is a segment titled “Random Acts of State Sponsored Violence” which shows real world clips of police using excessive force. The entire show is in your face.
Due to this abrasive nature, Random Acts becomes difficult to watch. A segment entitled “Everybody Dies” looks like a public access children’s television show. While the segment deals with the low mortality rate among African Americans and self loathing, it is also very heavy handed. For example, the show’s host Ripa the Reaper sings the theme song to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Despite the silly setting and lack of subtlety, the whole thing works due to its truthfulness.Even more difficult to watch, is a commercial starring Jon Hamm for a fictional product that removes white thoughts. The segment strikes a nerve due to the fact that the script could have been ripped from any internet forum (“But don’t all lives matter?”) There is also an unsettling scene in which Hamm tries to justify why he is not as white as the director of the commercial thinks. The “infomerical” does not pull any punches, down to the tried and true white people have no rhythm joke.
Segments like these do not hurt Random Acts. On the contrary, they strengthen the show’s overall message while delivering some clever lines. Nonetheless, they are very difficult to watch. Nance himself seems to acknowledge this in a scene where he wonders if he should be celebrating a race in place of putting another down.
Random Acts of Flyness is a creative show that lives up to its name. The show is filled with humor, but it is the kind that will make you think instead of laugh. Terence Nance has created a great piece of art with a strong social message. The question is, at what cost?