I’m genuinely surprised that Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster, Frankenstein is debuting on a thing like Netflix, and not randomly during the 4-4:30 AM slot on Adult Swim. Directed by Daniel Gray Longino (Kroll Show, PEN15) and written by John Levenstein (Arrested Development), this oddball mockumentary runs a brisk 28 minutes and doesn’t appear to be attached to anything other than the idea that watching David Harbour do his best blowhard Orson Welles impression for a half-hour would be really, really funny. And you know what? It is. Nailed it. A+ for absurdity. I don’t know what strange electrical storm brought Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster, Frankenstein off the slab, but I’m not mad this monster is alive.
The gist is this: Actual actor David Harbour, star of Stranger Things and the Hellboy reboot, is investigating the life of his father, classically trained thespian David Harbour Jr. (also played by David Harbour.) His star power on the wane and career in a downward slope, the elder David Harbour put on one last big teleplay, Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster, Frankenstein, a gothic tale of horror and deception co-starring Monica Fulton (Kate Berlant), Aubrey Fields (Alfred Molina), and Harbour Jr.’s Hollywood nemesis, the upstart young talent Joey Vallejo (Alex Ozerov). The deeper David Harbour III digs the more secrets emerge, including jealousy, lies, and quite possibly…murder.
Again, there’s not a whole lot to this thing, but what you do get is a delightful ham sandwich with a heaping portion of cheese. This is the salve Harbour fans need in the wake of that truly dreadful Hellboy movie and a divisive Stranger Things season 3 performance that saw Jim Hopper going from “loveably grumpy” to “just yelling literally all of the time.” The reason that floral shirt might’ve been a little snug on season 3 Hopper is that Harbour chews the scenery to shreds in Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster, and it’s a joy to behold all the way through. As modern-day David Harbour, he’s an intense, stone-faced detective even while flanked by posters of his father’s movies like “The Crying Detective” and “The Pirate’s Husband”. In the “archival” footage from the teleplay itself—shot to look like old grainy film stock—Harbour delivers a masterclass in overacting. I honestly think one of the hardest things a performer can do convincingly is act badly on purpose, and Harbour does so with gusto, eating David Harbour Jr.’s overlong monologues like a full meal. (His constant refrain of “…and THAT is how I got into Juilliard” is never not funny.) Berlant, too, is a joy; an improv veteran, there’s an unscripted looseness to every one of her punchlines here that brings to mind the wonderful lo-fi nature of something like Wet Hot American Summer.
Really, the joy of Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster, Frankenstein is that it never really explains or justifies itself. It’s just a brief weird thing made by some very funny people during, I assume, whatever lunch breaks Harbour had while shooting Stranger Things. That it landed on an international streaming service with endless resources honestly just makes the whole thing funnier. In that way, it reminds me of The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience, the absolutely brilliant 30-minute “visual album” The Lonely Island dropped on Netflix that is so endearingly stupid that I still kind’ve can’t believe it’s not a prank in some way. Or, hell, even I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson, which delivers incredible bite-sized episodes of absurdity, good car ideas, and mud pies. With non-original staples like The Office and Friends headed out the door and competition like Disney+ looming on the horizon, Netflix is in for a few re-shaping years ahead. If part of that is a little niche for uber-talented comedians to drop weird shit like Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster, Frankenstein? That’s a mad scientist’s dream actually worth supporting.
★★★★ Very good