Reviews of Next To Heaven - Season 1

Karina’s Capsule: Next to Heaven

If you made it to Pixelodeon a couple of weeks back, you might have seen Rob Parrish’s Tapes of My Father. Composed entirely of found, public domain footage set to voice over, Tapes purports to be a son’s presentation of recently unearthed videos made by his late father, a public access TV producer who secretly recorded his innermost thoughts over stock footage reels. On Parrish’s Blip.TV page, the clip is listed as the 33rd episode of his fascinating and addictive weekly series Next to Heaven, but to me it seems like a more logical entry point for the series as a whole than any of the 32 episodes that precede it. The intro to Tapes is played dead straight. When the son says something like, “Releasing dad’s secret videos in this film is part of the healing process for me,” even though it plays over footage branded “Public Access Producer’s Association” (or, “P.A.P.A”), it’s still possible that this could be a real, non-ironic tribute from a real son to his real dad–there certainly are enough of them on YouTube. But the second we flip over to “dad’s footage”, it’s clear that Parrish isn’t emulating or even spoofing the existing family tribute genre. He’s much more interested in a different genre: the comedy of personal misery. Parrish seems to be using the juxtaposition of old footage and narration both to evoke nostalgia for the era of the totally subjective movie narrator, and to conduct an investigation into the nuances of a certain type of firstperson storytelling, one that’s simultaneously confessional and not at all reliable. But all of that aside, each episode also works as a kind of convoluted joke. Throughout the series, as in Tapes, you never see the punchline coming right away, because Parrish is so slick about slipping into the tropes of the footage that define each clip. Maybe it’s a trick of the ears and eyes, but Parrish’s modulated voices pair so well with his montages that, sometimes, it’s not until I’m laughing out loud that I remember that I’m watching a manipulation. I’ve watched about ten Next to Heaven episodes, and my favorite so far is probably episode 41, in which an ex-junkie describes replacing his addiction to heroin with an addiction to anti-drug education films–particularly those narrated by Paul Newman.

By Karina Longworth for New Tee Vee.

Spout Blog/Film Couch

What’s truly interesting in the film world this week are the 52 episodes of Next to Heaven Rob Parrish created over the last year. Sometimes funny, sometimes tragic and always bizarre–Next to Heaven is an experimental series that simply would not have existed, much less been seen, pre-Internet.

The freedom Parrish had was to define his own limitations, like working from archival footage and producing an episode a week–as opposed to a network or studio defining the limitations–and, in doing so, he’s created his own aesthetic.

By Paul Moore for Film Couch

Death Is Hilarious

One week ago, I wrote a post expressing my aversion to the concept of webisodes, how I found it too hard to concentrate on them and had yet to see anything that really caught my attention. Not long after, Rob Parrish left a thoughtful comment and concluded it by attaching a link to his own series, Next to Heaven. No offense to Mr. Parrish, but I didn’t even bother clinking on the link for fear of what resided on the other side. But a day or two later, Hammer to Nail’s other driving force alongside Ted Hope, Mr. Corbin Day, called me to say that I should watch Episode 52 because he thought it was pretty wild stuff. At that point, I did. He was right! Since then, I have managed to watch all fifty-two episodes from the show’s first season, and while the content varies from exceptional to interesting, Parrish hits a few genuine grand slams that have made me an official Next to Heaven fan.

The most important factor here is that Parrish seems to understand the format he’s working with and the audience he’s making these episodes for. This isn’t cinema or television. It’s its own thing. And if done creatively and wisely, it can provide its own healthy measures of entertainment and enlightenment. Each episode hovers around the two-minute mark (with the exception of the special “The Tapes of My Dad,” which combines a few previous episodes into one heartier package). Also, another striking distinction that helps Parrish’s case greatly, I think, is that he isn’t trying to establish an ongoing narrative. Each episode is a self-contained unit, and while the combination of them adds up to a greater whole, they need not be watched in sequence to be appreciated or understood. I guess my problem with the concept of webisodes is that I assumed people were going to only use the format to make low-rent, paper thin, one-dimensional soap operas and/or sitcoms. And while many do, Parrish’s vision couldn’t be more different and exciting.

As for the show itself, Next to Heaven reminds me of something like Jack Handey’s Deep Thoughts. Over edited stock footage, Parrish crafts hilarious memories of individuals who are speaking from the grave, or from somewhere close to it. While he uses a variety of distorted voices for his narration, my favorite is the slowed-down male figure that sounds like he’s been huffing Nitrous since the 1970s. On the site, Parrish has a page where he selects twelve of the best episodes, but my personal favorites are: 2, 12, 26, 35, 49, and 52. These particular episodes aren’t just the ones that made me laugh the loudest. They actually work on a deeper level, using wit and humor to mock some of our world’s sillier constructs (the work force, country pride, funerals, etc.). Episode 52 was the first episode that I watched, and it might very well be my favorite, especially when the narrator’s friends call to him from Heaven telling him to leave his loser Earth friends behind and join them for the real party up there. Episode 26, about a man who wakes up as a lion and makes his way to work, is another standout, as well as Episode 35, which contains the following patriotic line: “And you know what winners never do? Winners never lose. Never.” That episode brilliantly captures the buffoonish, defiant attitude of the Bush administration as well as any work of criticism I’ve seen or read. But one doesn’t have to read into these episodes to appreciate them. As quick bursts of entertainment, they work just as well.

I’d like to send a personal thank you to Rob Parrish for helping me to see the light, to show me just a glimpse of what webisodes can do. If any of you out there know of any others that have their heads and hearts and funny bones in the right place, leave a link in the comments section. And if you haven’t watched Next to Heaven yet, do yourself a favor and check it out right now.

By Michael Tully for Hammer to Nail

“In a way that familiar feeling of disappointment makes your new house a home.” Such are the documented words of a man whose life has been nothing short of miserable. And thus is the tone for this dark, inventive gem of a short film.

The Short Films Blog (Review of Episode 33 - The Tapes of My Father)

Robert Parrish’s The Tapes of My Father is (on paper) a man’s sympathetic tribute to his deceased father. We learn through archival footage that his dad worked as a newscaster for a television station. Later we are introduced to traces of his father’s troubled past through archived tapes. The tapes feature historically ambiguous black and white photos and video narrated by an artificially deepened voice assumed to be his father.

After a tongue-in-cheek, laughably cheesy opening homage to his father, Parrish immediately yanks our hearts from our bodies and corners us into a futile world of bitterness and extreme depression. The compilation of his father’s tapes begins with: “Statues make me depressed…because I’ll never do anything good enough to merit my own statue.” After spending a few seconds with his father we aren’t sure whether to cringe, laugh or cry.

But as time continues to pass…and his father’s grief remains constant…there is no longer any alternative but to submit to your gut, which is inevitably rooting for a belly laugh.

And if you’re not laughing then the joke’s on you. Parrish brilliantly utilizes seemingly random archived footage to construct a story without actually having any true-to-life characters. The dramatic contrast between the intensely melodramatic approach at the beginning of the film and the morbid second half which follows effectively positions the viewer in an emotionally uncomfortable position. And yet the uncompromising nature of the filmmaking makes it easy to acknowledge those who are indeed buying into the legitimacy of this piece.

Tapes of My Father was an official selection for the DC Shorts Film Festival and Rosebud Film & Video Festival. Its success stems from its original, experimental style of storytelling and brilliant execution in manipulating the hearts and minds of its viewers.

By Charlie Wachtel for The Short Films Blog