What do you do when a show has too many people psyched about it? The answer these days is an aftershow, a recap hosted by overtly enthused folks amplifying the hype and trying to do an ESPN-style analysis of a television episode. The Walking Dead had Talking Dead, Breaking Bad had Talking Bad, Better Call Saul had Talking Saul, and Game Of Thrones had After The Thrones.... You get my drift. Fandom is a swiftly commodified thing, and more officially branded content is eagerly slurped down by fans who read rumours about which actor has been spotted on which set and what a particular haircut might say about next season.
What Just Happened??! With Fred Savage (streaming in India on Hotstar) is a full-blown aftershow for a sci-fi series called “The Flare", featuring Savage—an impassioned purist who loves the books “The Flare" is based on—as its over-caffeinated host, talking to celebrity guests, discussing spoilers and theories for the show ahead, while a wildly enthusiastic studio audience cheers on cue. There’s just one thing: “The Flare" does not stream on Hotstar. In fact, it does not exist. The books don’t exist. This is a lot of very loud hype for a very fake show.
Savage is a solid pick for the job. Best known for his starring role in the classic series The Wonder Years, the actor has been flaunting his comedic chops of late—he’s easily the best part of the Netflix series Friends From College—and he created What Just Happened??! With Fred Savage as a frankly absurd reaction to being offered his own talk show. He may not be Kevin Arnold any more, but Savage is an immensely sprightly 42, bounding all over the place with an enthusiasm so fanboy-ish it’s hard not to be embarrassed for him. Which is exactly what the show wants you to feel. That, and a touch of confusion.
The show is somewhat in the vein of Steve Coogan’s (vastly superior) BBC series, This Time With Alan Partridge, which takes us to the real-time filming of a morning show and captures embarrassment and awkwardness both on and off camera. Hunt out the DVD for that series and rejoice, because Coogan is a master at trying to be effortless on the air while visibly stretching his sinews.
What Just Happened??! With Fred Savage is a simpler beast—it is the aftershow itself, a tight 20 minutes without room for behind-the-scenes skittery—and the only discerning characteristic of Savage’s hype-man is that he is a real fan. He would be a cool guy if he could be ironic about his love for “The Flare" (glimpses show a deeply trashy show thick with cliffhangers) but his sincerity makes him uncool. That bears thinking about.
Meanwhile, the celebrity interviews on the show are real. Kevin Smith shows up in episode 2 to plug his next film, Jay And Silent Bob Reboot, and geeks out briefly about The Wonder Years and how he started watching it because Savage’s character shared his first name. Another guest is Rob Lowe, who starred alongside Savage on the sadly little-seen comedy The Grinder, where Savage played a lawyer being upstaged by his brother, played by Lowe, who had only played a lawyer on television. Clearly, this meta business appeals to Savage, and the two actors enjoy an absurd interview, part of which “goes extreme": which is to say it is conducted in settings mirroring a scene from the episode they have just watched, and while that is absolutely nuts, I can honestly declare I would watch a Game Of Thrones aftershow if people used swords and halberds to make their points.
Much is lampooned, especially that all-threatening culture of spoiler-avoidance that we just don’t seem to know what to do with. Ours is a world where relatively respectable newspaper websites carry spoiler alerts in the first paragraph of stories after giving the game away in their headlines, and Twitter-memes are churned out with sadistic glee, so as to spoil one’s show before the creators can.
What Just Happened??! With Fred Savage includes an “interview" with television icon Vince Gilligan (creator of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, both streaming on Netflix), who is also said to have directed a forthcoming episode of “The Flare". In this superb segment, Savage is simultaneously desperate for information and eager to avoid spoilers. In the end, Gilligan barely gets to nod.
It’s an odd experiment, to be honest. Savage’s madcap enthusiasm and the show’s earnest commitment to silliness provide some solid laughs, but to feel like more than one sketch from a sketch show stretched beyond its concept, this show needs to satirically up its game. Then again, maybe not. Perhaps What Just Happened??! With Fred Savage doesn’t really need to do anything, besides allowing that guy from The Wonder Years to have a well-earned blast and trade jokes with Tiffany Haddish. Something this unlikely doesn’t come along very often. To paraphrase a line often used to describe one of the greatest television shows of all time: This is an aftershow about nothing.
Stream of Stories is a column on what to watch online. Raja Sen is a film critic and the author of The Best Baker In The World (2017), a children’s adaptation of The Godfather.