There are some extraordinary acts of love in “Tornado,” this month’s installment of Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories, and they all come at grisly cost. A psychological thriller that seems to have been ghost-written by Eugene O’Neill, the episode follows Matt Peters (Zach Gilford), a dashing young advertising creative with everything going his way—until, that is, his past catches up to him in the form of that titular catastrophe. There is no love, “Tornado” ultimately teaches us, without loss. It’s a common lesson, sure, but we know better than to expect anything close to a common execution from this creative team.
Matt, as we learn in a prologue, spent his adolescence masturbating into the toilet with such frequency that he caused plumbing issues across the entire city. At the gentle request of a municipal employee, he agrees to temper his activities, which of course he doesn’t actually do. When a tornado razes his parents’ home years later, they reveal that they knew he hadn’t stopped. Instead of confronting their teenage son, they installed a septic tank to spare the city sewage system as well as Matt’s dignity.
No good deed goes unpunished, however, as the tornado did more than destroy Matt’s childhood home: it lifted the secret septic tank and plunged its contents onto a local children’s hospital. Rather than risk a life-destroying scandal for himself and his parents, Matt consents to the punishment mandated by the hospital’s Chancellor Palpatinesque director, Father Krang (Palpatine-esque Kurtwood Smith). Krang has one condition: Matt must amputate his testicles.
The utter absurdity of the affair is made all the more delightful by “Tornado”’s dry direction, naturalistic performances, and expert plotting. That news about the semen-deluged hospital, by the by, is delivered by Lance Reddick (!) as family attorney Joseph Zagan, who speaks of ejaculate with a gravitas—“Matt, you unloaded just a tremendous amount of glue into that tank”—the subject has surely never enjoyed. He reappears some time after the surgery to return Matt’s testicles, claiming he spirited them away in defiance of Father Krang. Matt has them reinserted just in time to ignite a budding romance with his colleague Lucy (a magnetic Rosa Salazar).
Their relationship belies one of the more sublime pleasures of “Tornado”: an effortless flirtation with genre—romance, horror, family drama—that at no point sacrifices comedy or soundness of plot. More importantly, it keeps us on our toes in a fashion that too many 22-minute narratives are unable to accomplish. The final twist, and there is indeed a final twist, rings inevitable in retrospect but is entirely unpredictable until the moment it arrives. This is a testament to Tim & Eric’s particular insanities, yes, but also to dramatic structures that have been missing from the airwaves since The Twilight Zone. Netflix recently commissioned twelve new episodes of Black Mirror, but those won’t see release for at least another year. Thank goodness we’ve got Bedtime Stories to hold us over.
Seth Simons is a Brooklyn-based writer, performer, and birdwatcher. Follow him @sasimons.