David Harbour & a game cast try their best, but can’t save this rush job of a Netflix mockumentary.
Stranger Things has arrived for a mostly successful third season, but not without some controversy. Lovable lug Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is now angry man-bear Jim Hopper, greeting every person he encounters with either sarcasm, his fists, or both. Fans of the show are sharply divided between those who believe Hopper’s turned into a misogynistic ogre, and those who see the negative change in his personality as the natural trajectory of a character who’s experienced insurmountable trauma. Either way, Harbour plays this new, less likable version of Hopper with a touch of strange humor and bumbling physicality, both of which are on display in Netflix’s bizarre Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster, Frankenstein.
Harbour plays a fictionalized version of himself in a half-hour long mockumentary about the inept production of a televised play starring his father, a supposedly Julliard trained thespian also named David Harbour. Written by John Levenstein (Arrested Development, The Kroll Show), it’s a strangely paced experiment with an ending so abrupt I went back and watched it again to make sure I hadn’t missed anything.
After discovering a lost recording of his father’s play, the titular Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster, Frankenstein, Harbour sets out on a journey to learn more about the man he never really knew. While trying to trigger the memories of some of his father’s colleagues by feeding them chili made with the elder Harbour’s personal recipe, he learns that his father was a bloviating windbag whose only acting advice was “Enunciate.” The show teases that Harbour will uncover a number of shocking secrets about his father, but other than the fact that he lied about his Julliard credentials and might have murdered his young co-star, we never actually find out what they are.
It feels like a handful of sketches tied together with a plot thread so thin it’s almost not there.
It’s clear that Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster, Frankenstein is trying to be a dry parody in the vein of IFC’s Documentary Now, and at times it almost makes it. The problem is that it isn’t finished. Presumably rushed out to coincide with Stranger Things, it feels like a handful of sketches tied together with a plot thread so thin it’s almost not there. A fascinatingly weird cast, including Alfred Molina, 80s cult film fixture Mary Woronov, and comedian Kate Berlant, all give 100% in roles that feel barely written.
Some jokes, like the play being sponsored by Chekhov’s Guns and Ammo (motto: “You’re gonna fire it!”), reflect how funny the show could have been if it had a little more time to cook. Others, like the play itself, a take on a Dark Shadows-like soap opera, fall so flat you can almost hear the thud. Obviously, it’s satirizing a corny, self-important attempt at “art,” intent isn’t the problem. It’s just not funny.
One thing is certain, however: Harbour was born to do comedy. Actually, there are two things: Harbour was born to do comedy, and he can do a pretty solid Orson Welles impersonation. The show itself may be meandering and frustratingly incomplete, but he, like the rest of the cast, makes a commendable effort at working with what he has. The highlight of the episode is when Harbour parodies Welles’ iconic Paul Masson wine commercials, a moment that earns genuine laughter while the rest of the show warrants little more than a polite nod. His performance teases the potential of Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster, Frankenstein, which makes what it ends up being even more disappointing.
Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster, Frankenstein is staggering around Netflix now