Drug culture, Balls Deep, and Ellen Page: life according to Vice magazine’s venture into television.
It was Monday February 29th, 2016. Vice Media teamed up with shareholders A&E Network and Roger’s Media to launch not one but two Viceland-branded cable channels, in America and Canada respectively. The move seemed surprising – nonsensical, even – for a media outlet targeting millennials. The launch took place in the context of a projected five year growth of 12.42% in the Video On Demand [V.O.D] market.
But they played their cards right. Spike Jonze – the Academy Award nominated director, screenwriter and overall visionary behind many of the iconic music videos of Bjork, Daft Punk and Kanye West – was brought in for creative direction. Vice Media CEO Shane Smith spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about how, even in the rise of V.O.D, 75% of the world’s advertising budget was still being spent on television advertising. The move was clever and calculated; a solid creative vision teamed with a marketing strategy that dared to be different. Working with A&E and Roger’s Media was a foolproof way of bringing the famously polarising Vice to the mainstream; the partnerships ensured Viceland was brought straight into wide circulation – beamed into 70+ million homes – and was part of a package that could be marketed online (with Viceland and A&E set to begin streaming on Hulu’s new live TV lineup).
Viceland’s speciality is what I like to call ‘hangover’ TV; reality-documentary programing mindless enough to watch through bouts of nausea, yet interesting enough to keep your mind distracted from dwelling on that nausea all day. Viceland’s reality-documentary programming is definitely more accomplished, relevant and well formed than MTV shows like Geordie Shore and Teen Mom; but if you’re expecting a Netflix polish, look somewhere else.
This isn’t reality TV like we’re used to. Guerilla camerawork and character driven narratives make a viewer feel like they’re on the inside track, and ultimately involved. The emphasis is on following interesting personalities as they explore the aspects of the world pertinent to the millennial generation. A perfect example of this is Gaycation, a documentary series hosted by Academy Award-nominated actress Ellen Page and her best friend, Ian Daniel. The choice of Page to helm the documentary series is perfect, especially after the world bore witness to the media furor, and subsequent Hollywood neglect, she was subjected to during her process of publicly coming out. Viceland’s choice of personally involved narrators elevates shows which might otherwise be considered millennial fodder to something fascinating. Spike Jonze put it best when he said, “if it doesn’t have a strong point of view, then it shouldn’t be on this channel.” Viceland, true to its name, pulls no punches.
Viceland won’t be to everyone’s taste. But in a time when the amount of cable television available is decreasing and becoming increasingly hegemonic as a result of the online revolution, Viceland isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Having Weediquette, Traveling the Stars: Action Bronson and Friends Watch ‘Ancient Aliens’ and many other new marijuana-centred reality programming is perhaps exactly the kind of postmodern vagary we require in 2017. What’s wrong with being hungover and wanting to watch a group of friends build Ikea furniture while on LSD?
Viceland has a strong brand identity and unapologetic sense of self. They may just pull off launching a new cable television for the millennial generation during the online revolution. Seeing far beyond our time into a hipster future, Viceland is predicting the new vinyl player to be our DVD playing TVs and getting in before the renaissance. In order to test this hypothesis, we got two writers to preview their biggest shows: Bong Appetit and the puzzlingly titled Nirvanna the Band the Show. They were surprised, but impressed. All I can say is, if they continue to reveal shining diamonds of personal experience in the weed smoke; Viceland will be a commercial success.
Now available in seven countries, Viceland is on Sky TV UK and Ireland channel 153.
Nirvanna the Band the Show
Viceland’s new show Nirvanna the Band the Show introduces us to two goofs with one aim: to get a show at the Rivoli. It’s an amateur concert venue in Toronto, but to Matt and Jay it’s the ultimate dream. The fact that they’ve never performed or written a song is no matter of importance. These delusional fools bounce off each other, fuelling each other’s crazy ideas to get the Rivoli’s attention. Matt and Jay are Canadian comedy duo Jay McCaroll and Matt Johnson. Jay is boisterous, loud and always the first to bring his innovative and somewhat ridiculous ideas to the table. Matt is naive and a dreamer and somehow always manages to botch Jay’s tactics. Their ploys to get the Rivoli’s attention are bold, ambitious and will make you say ‘wow, I can’t believe that they’re… actually doing that’.
The comedic duo use semi-improvised dialogue to make the show both enticing and ridiculous. Shot in cinema verite, the style is fast-paced, with moments of direct camera address. Matt and Jay hold the screen and bring the audience along on their wild antics. Their bashfulness is insidious and their naivety endearing. With references to Jurassic Park, Star Wars and Seinfeld, this comedy sketch brings all kinds of pop culture nostalgia into the mix. Viceland have put these two Canadian clowns on the map to bring you a show that is ironic, entertaining and unashamedly absurd. Indiewire described it as ‘so stupid, it’s smart’. Tune into Viceland at Midnight on Thursdays to see what these ‘musicians’ get up to – let’s be honest though, who goes out of their way to watch TV at midnight? Will they get to fulfil their aspirations by performing at the Rivoli? For the sake of the audience, I hope not. But one thing isn’t in doubt: they’ll keep trying!
Bong Appetit!: Weed Culture TV
Bong Appetit is a show which, as the name suggests, is about the budding (heh) concept of cannabis-infused cuisine. It is soon to air its second season on Viceland. Hosted by the highly (heh) likeable Vice personality Abdullah Saeed, the show is an entertaining watch in itself, but it also manages to provide an insight into cannabis culture, without trading on any of the the lazy stereotypes usually associated with it.
The first season features food and cannabis being merged together in wildly creative (and hilarious) ways. One episode features three dips being offered at the dinner table: mild, medium, and hot which will result in one getting a little, moderately, or extremely high, respectively. In another episode they prepare a smoked tuna, which is quite literally (to use what I believe to be the correct street-lingo) hotboxed in a container of cannabis smoke. Seeing that piece of tuna enveloped in a haze of dank A.F. smoke has to be one of the most wondrous things I’ve seen on television.
The episodes end with a dinner party, where the invitees eat the food that we have seen prepared throughout the show while also taking part in a variety of cannabis themed activities. Highlights include a stony meringue which, when dipped in liquid nitrogen, allows the eater to exhale vapour which – and I’m just hazarding a guess here – may be a visual allusion to the exhalation of cannabis smoke? There is also the glorious destruction of an edible-stuffed piñata by stoned revellers, who – fuelled by savage munchies – pounce upon its spilled delights.
The chefs who guest star on Bong Appetit have usually never cooked with cannabis in any serious culinary way, with previous flirtations (such as when one chef miscalculated dosage in a weed omelette, leading to him “being like a zombie for hours”) causing them to be cautious with regard to how strong each dose is. Thankfully there are weed experts on hand to handle dosages, ensuring everyone remains on terra firma.
As impressive as the exhibition of culinary explorations is, what is perhaps even more impressive is how the show manages to normalise those who use cannabis. The people in the show are all constructive members of society. They are shop owners, chefs, artists, businesspeople, even retirees; all of whom are shown to be responsible in their smoking, often refusing to “blaze it” when having something to do. As the resident culinary artist puts it, “I bake and then I get baked”.
The show makes an effort to give a scientific explanation of how cannabis works. We are told that CDB is the compound which produces the “body high”, and has little psychoactive effect, and that THC is the compound with the more cerebral effect. In what is a happy coincidence, we learn that CDB curtails the effects of THC, preventing one from getting – as they put it – “too high”. Viceland: providing science lessons to millennials since 2016.
Amidst the obvious fun of all this, Bong Appetit also alludes to the more serious medical applications of the drug. In the first episode of the series, we meet a young woman who has been using cannabis as treatment for her Motor Neurone Disease, a fatal degenerative disease which eventually leads to total paralysis. At the dinner party later on, she reveals that she went to Abdullah to help her explore cannabis as a method of treatment. She tells us that the CBD loosens the tightness in her muscles, and that the THC alleviates her pain. She ends her segment by saying, “I feel like I’m doing really well compared to other people who started at the same point”. In spite of the widespread legalisation of cannabis in many US states, the vast majority of jurisdictions worldwide still criminalise people with illnesses who could experience improved quality of life with the help of the drug.
Abdullah ends one episode by saying that we are lucky to live in a time where cannabis is being legalised, and that he hopes that the work done by the people on his show can be seen as broadening the scope with which cannabis can be used. What the show manages to do is showcase that there is no shortage of ways in which cannabis can be used creatively and constructively, and that the people who do so do no harm, apart from being occasionally dozy and often quite hungry.