John Mulaney and “The Sack Lunch Bunch” is a work of art that, like many works of art, makes you ask questions. But not only does it make you question your sense of self, it asks the questions at point blank range. I found myself in my bed staring in bewilderment at my laptop screen as the many musical numbers unfolded. Why is David Byrne of Talking Heads in an Elsa dress? Why is there an opera singer harmonizing on an alternative song about hibernating flowers? I fell in love while watching this, purely because I think John Mulaney only created this for himself, and I am a fiend for all things Mulaney. But taking the abruptness and absurdity of it all, and setting it aside, this was a very charming special. I was dazzled by both the kids and the guest stars; they all worked very well together in an odd sense of harmony and paper mache volcanoes, but it was really the music and dance numbers that helped seal the deal.
Also, I need to take a moment to discuss Jake Gyllenhaal as Mr. Music. I need more. I would pay an unspeakable amount of cash to produce a Mr. Music spin-off special, where it’s just an hour of Jake Gyllenhaal sprinting around an empty soundstage doing whatever his heart desires. I genuinely thought I was hallucinating when he began walking barefoot on broken glass (because I did watch this at 3:30 AM after all). But the question of ‘what the fuck?’ is not the only one present--there were two big ones that defined the special. The first one, 'what scares you?' was asked to all of the kids, guest stars, the Mulaneys themselves, and set out to figure out if kids aren’t all that different from adults, with similar strange phobias (spiders) and the same big arching fears (losing loved ones) found among the many ages. The second one, 'John, are you actually serious?’ was asked to, well, John, and through the self deprecating humor that, yes, a flat out inappropriate comedian and former SNL writer of the early aughts is in fact producing and starring in a children's special, we find that yes, he is serious. But besides the almost parodic tone weaved throughout, the sense of earnest shines through. Through jazz hands that are way out of sync with each other, to dramatic dancing with janky pasta props.
Somehow someway, in his own weird 37-year-old millenial way, Mulaney created a children's special that is actually good, for both adults and kids. I found myself watching it from the strange angle of a college kid, not as the kid from within. I'm pretty sure the kid version of myself would start stress crying the moment Mr. Music started flushing a toilet over and over again (and way, way, way before that as well). And that’s what makes it work. It doesn’t try to make you feel ‘like your inner child,’ as if your sense of self in the here and now can’t be childish already. The Sack Lunch Bunch tells you to like it for what it is, which is to have a really weird time. This special will not answer your questions, and is barely able to answer it’s own- but that’s life, and it embraces that notion. That is what makes this different and makes it worth your time. Do me a favor, and please watch this.
Header Image via Netlix on YouTube