The Spool / TV
“Middleditch & Schwartz” Bring Long-Form Improv to Netflix
Thomas Middleditch and Ben Schwartz bluff their way through a trio of uproarious specials that teeter on the edge of chaos, like long-form improv should.
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Thomas Middleditch and Ben Schwartz bluff their way through a trio of uproarious specials that teeter on the edge of chaos, like long-form improv should.

It’s hard to evaluate comedy, really. What brings one person to tears leaves another stone-faced, and describing comedy, particularly in words, is a whole other issue entirely. With that in mind, I won’t describe Middleditch & Schwartz, Netflix’s new trio of comedy specials featuring Thomas Middleditch and Ben Schwartz in too much detail, except to say that they’re hilarious. 

The three one-hour specials were filmed at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts and are completely improvised. The pair quizzes one audience member per special and crafts the proceedings around that person’s story. 

The “getting suggestions” portions of the shows are the most uncomfortable: while they provide excellent fodder and both Middleditch and Schwartz are great while listening to these stories, there’s a distinct feeling of “book signing Q & A” and all of the social awkwardness therein.

Middleditch And Schwartz Comedy Special 2019
Photo: Jeffery Neira/ NETFLIX © 2020

The first, “Parking Lot Wedding”, begins with a groom having a simple case of the nerves on his wedding day, but soon there are secrets revealed, parents who aren’t handling things well, a spurned lover from the past, and a ghost all conspiring to throw a wrench in the works. Will the happy couple get hitched? Who will ultimately be the best man? What leads up to (and from!) the best line of all three specials: “You can’t just say you’re a ghost and then disappear!!” 

The second special, “Law School Magic” starts the shakiest of the three, perhaps because the chosen audience member gives so much information that working it all in seems like it might be impossible. An important law school final exam becomes a flood of movie references, pairs of students with the same name (remembering the names of the various characters is possibly the toughest thing for Middleditch and Schwartz to do, and it’s funny every time they catch it), and a mystical closet. Yes, that’s right. 

Lastly is “Dream Job”, where the “wait, who am I right now?” reaches its peak and the modern job market (the audience member is awaiting news about a second interview for an internship) gets skewered while comedy photography goes up against warzone photography and no one wants to be a gazelle. A highlight of this special features Middleditch doing an exaggerated New York City accent while Schwartz points out that he is from New York City and yet doesn’t sound like that. By the end of this hour neither comedian has any idea what is going on anymore, which lends itself to the feeling that we’re all hanging out with two of our silliest friends.

They’re having a blast and we get to have it with them.

The best part of the whole experience is how much fun Middleditch and Schwartz are having every second that they’re on stage. They laugh when they screw up, they laugh when they catch onto a reference (there’s one in the first episode that most superhero movie fans will see coming, and when it does it is GLORIOUS), they’re having a blast and we get to have it with them.

When the bits fall flat, which a couple do, they play them off beautifully–they’re not embarrassed to admit when something doesn’t work. During “Parking Lot Wedding” Schwartz does lapse a little into Jean-Ralphio, his Parks and Recreation character, but it’s hard to tell if this is deliberate or just a fallback. It still works, though. 

If you’re a fan of either comedian, sheer silliness, aliens named Jason, when people break on SNL, or just laughter in general, Middleditch & Schwartz is worth your time. We could all stand to laugh a bit more these days. 

Middleditch & Schwartz ‘yes, ands’ its way to Netflix today.