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The Lonely Island’s ‘Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience’ is a work of art

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I don’t know why this exists, but I’m so glad it does.

Netflix/SB Nation illustration
  1. This is a compliment: I don’t know why The Lonely Island Presents: The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience exists, or what its purpose is. It is a 30-minute fever dream — “a visual poem” according to the summary — about baseball players Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire during their time together on the Oakland Athletics from 1988-1992. Andy Samberg and Akiva Schaffer from The Lonely Island play the duo despite resembling neither McGwire nor Canseco in any way.
  2. There is an 11-song, 25-minute long soundtrack to go with the visual poem. Almost all of the songs mention heavy steroid use. Only one mentions an elaborate sex act involving 100 cardboard cutouts of period-appropriate swimsuit model Kathy Ireland and a broom. That’s about the right ratio between those two, if anyone was wondering.
  3. If making a 30-minute hip hopera about an iconic and scandalized pair of anabolically-inclined late-80s baseball players seems like a very specific pull for a very specific niche audience, well: it is, and it also isn’t. It is specific in the sense that those with a faint memory of the Bash Brothers — namely big sunglasses, giant biceps, an iconic Costacos Brothers poster, highlights of home runs blasted into the sun-drenched stands of Oakland-Alameda Coliseum, and a certain 1990-ish pagers-and-Lamborghinis vibe surrounding everything — will enjoy how much Samberg and Schaffer clearly adore the whole era.
  4. It also isn’t in the sense that The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience is also essentially Beyonce’s Lemonade, but done instead by three nerds who met in a Bay Area middle school, and written about the 1988 Oakland A’s most juiced pair of sluggers. That kind of barely-anchored surreality has its own logic and needs no excuses. Samberg and Schaffer float underwater in baseball uniforms asking questions like WHERE WILL WE HIDE FROM THE SUN WHEN ALL THE TREES ARE DEAD? McGwire rips the bones out of his own arm. The pair appear with burning angels’ wings, on the deck of Noah’s Ark, and in an ad for a workout video about lifting women instead of weights. “Oakland Nights” is just a solid two minutes of the pair rapping about spending their nights in silk robes and kimonos while Schaffer drops the line “I’m solo and I’m flexin’ but don’t try to soloflex me.” Sia sings the chorus. She is played in The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience by Sterling K. Brown dancing shirtless in silk pajamas and a Sia wig. It’s fine, it’s all fine.
  5. About that: I have no idea why Sterling K. Brown isn’t the most successful person in Hollywood. He made Killmonger’s dad seem sympathetic in about two minutes of screen time in Black Panther. He was so scary as a homicidal dentist in one episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine that he almost undermined the comedy part of the show by himself. He is tearjerking on This is Us, an entire show based on the concept of being tearjerking at all times. He might be a better Sia than Sia, if we’re all being honest here. Someone pay him to play the most terrifying villain of his generation and let him be the titled legend he already is in reality.
  6. Oh, and the “don’t try to soloflex me” line? It’s better than anything Big Sean has ever written. That is a double-edged compliment in that Big Sean is embarrassing, and a low bar for any rapper to clear, but also because after more than a decade doing parody rap, the members of the Lonely Island have advanced from bad-good to kind of good-good at rapping and picking beats. Samberg drops a team-themed verse in “Let’s Bash” that is legit impressive by itself, and maybe more impressive because it’s preceded by a deep cut Walt Weiss joke. They’ve got range now, is what I’m saying, even if it is range employed in service of a 30-minute musical fantasy about Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco.
  7. I love that they did this, and particularly that they did it about a sports thing. The past 20 years have seen a deep and increasingly formal canonization of sports history, driven by docuseries like 30 for 30 and imitators, but also by the internet and the demands of its very particular economy of attention. There are lists, and more lists, and Mount Rushmores, and top 10s, and slideshows, all part of a boundless archive of well-considered lists of the Most Important, Most Consequential, and Most Essential. The lists of bests and most memorables are fine — everyone does them all the time, for all the right and wrong reasons — but they also bypass the experiential, turning history into something more collectible and sterile. Arguing about what’s best in sports is natural, but it ignores a lot of why people watch sports to begin with: Because of the experience, and not because of where their favorite teams or player or moments fall on among precisely sorted commodities.
  8. There are like, maybe three historical facts in the whole of The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience. That’s enough, because the rest is emotionally factual. The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience implicitly argues that baseball was insanely cool when people could and did take terrifying amounts of steroids, which is true. (Problematic! But true.) It reps early West Coast rap beats, Oakley sunglasses, ‘80s-model Lamborghinis, and neon-accented pastel decorating schemes. It feels way more like what I remember about the Oakland A’s from that era, even if they don’t namecheck Dave Stewart or Mike Gallego.
  9. That’s why I kind of love The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience, despite its complete lack of substance. It’s a thing I didn’t even know I was missing, a way of remembering a soap bubble of a moment in sports that was more vibe and less a series of events with import, weight, or legacy. Someone else might remember the precise impact those A’s had on modern baseball. Cool: I remember huge swole dudes with gold chains jacking dingers and making posters that ended up on my friends’ walls.
  10. That’s real, or at least more real than most of the overblown summaries at the end of sports documentaries about “a team defining a city” or “a legacy that will live forever.” Those messages feel forced, and fall short of illustrating how a moment truly felt. That’s not the fault of the documentary, which is a clean, clinical way of nonfiction storytelling. But where nonfiction like the documentary leaves off, art has to pick up. And yes, I just called a 30-minute parody video about Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco where Maya Rudolph and HAIM sing the words “shake four halves of butt” a work of art. If the label fits, the label fits.