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Review: Daily Wire's Mr. Birchum

Review: Daily Wire's Mr. Birchum

Despite taking flack online as The Daily Wire’s most recent attempt at comedy, the Adam Carolla-led Mr. Birchum is a series that has a strange and lengthy pedigree. Carolla has been working with the titular character since the 1990s. The crude old-fashioned woodshop teacher who supplies the show's name originated as a live-action puppet sketch during his time on The Man Show, Crank Yankers, and The Adam Carolla Radio Show.

In 2011, Carolla worked on The Birchums, a Fox animated sitcom similar to Family Guy and King of the Hill. He produced a pilot for Birchums, but alleged downsizing in Fox’s animation department saw the series left unproduced. Or, as with the majority of produced television pilots, it simply washed out amid other more demanding shows. 

The pilot is now considered lost media, as all of its YouTube and Daily Motion uploads have been taken down by Carolla’s production company Chassy Media Productions. All that remains are a few screenshots and a 13-year-old Facebook fan page that shows the original art design.

So, it is curious to see a version of the show adapted by the Daily Wire crew. CEO Jeremy Boreing has talked it up as the show “no network would touch” for decades. But given that Carolla is a recurring voice actor on Family Guy, author of a bestselling New York Times book, host of one of the world’s most popular podcasts, and the face of Pepsi, it’s hard to imagine Carolla is too offensive for the Fox Network. 

Mr. Birchum’s first season completed its six-episode run a few weeks back, and the result is messy—if only because some of Carolla’s original ideas did survive. Carolla’s performance as Birchum doesn’t come close to classic Fox animation territory, but he functions as a more mean-spirited and cynical rendition of the no-nonsense working-class Hank Hill archetype. 

From King of the Hill to The Sopranos, plenty of great television is founded on the drama of old conservative characters reacting to the changing modern world. The best moments of Mr. Birchum are when the titular Richard Birchum is on screen admiring his own bizarre life—reminiscing about table saws, the Gulf War, black coffee, past sexual conquests, and his crappy childhood. Carolla is self-aware enough to be self-deprecating, melding his baby-boomer masculinity with an awareness of how obnoxious and possessive the real Mr. Birchums are when you meet them in high school shop class. 

Unfortunately, the rest of the show fails to grasp this irony and presents it too straightforwardly. It falls apart when it tries to depict the modern world with one-dimensional depictions of progressive hipsters, lazy millennials, and career-focused feminists. It constantly throws in intrusive references to safe spaces, veganism, pronouns, feminism, and the Green New Deal that don’t make sense contextually within the scenes. It even throws in groaner references to other Daily Wire projects like What is a Woman? 

The lost pilot handled the issue of unfettered political correctness better in just its opening shot when the camera pans down on the high school to show that its antiquated Native American Braves mascot has been awkwardly covered with a Viking helmet, contrasting white guilt with the laziness of modern people's unwillingness to change. The school’s name was also awkwardly changed from George Washington Junior High School to George Washington Carver Junior High School for a quick diversity boost. These background jokes don’t make it into the Daily Wire’s first season. 

The execution leaves much to be desired. Its animation is awkward and sputtering, with stiff movements and inconsistent quality. The voice acting quality also fluctuates, with Carolla and Brett Cooper turning in solid performances, while Megyn Kelly’s Wendi Birchum is completely out to lunch. There is also an abysmally cringeworthy hallucinatory musical number in episode four where the animation quality drops embarrassingly. 

That said, the bright spots within the show do show potential. It’s amusing that Carolla utilized his celebrity clout to pull Patrick Warburton, Rob Riggle, and Danny Trejo for voiceover cameos in several episodes. 

Brett Cooper’s Jeanie Birchum is also a strangely wholesome inverse of the Bobby Hill dynamic, being a daddy’s-girl stepdaughter with most of her stepfather’s tendencies, who butts heads with her progressive real estate agent mother. Sadly, Jeanie doesn’t get enough character-building to be substantive and spends her limited screen time cheerleading her dad. What little we get of her plays into the strangely toxic dynamic of the Birchum family, where it is hard to tell why a progressive woman like Wendi would be attracted to a horny meathead shop teacher like Richard—other than a quick admission that she didn’t want to marry “another loser”.  

I’ve said before that I’m very much rooting for the Daily Wire to accomplish its mission of making itself a viable alternative to mainstream Hollywood. On paper, Mr. Birchum feels like it's pushing in the right direction. Adam Carolla has a nominal amount of talent and clout left to make things happen. But given that the reaction to the show has been universally negative outside of the fanbase, it shows that Nashville’s biggest conservative content creators have a long way to go.