That voice belongs to Stephanie Beatriz, who finds her fourth character in the Los Angeles improv comedy duo (also with Kristen Schaal) that first made a name for themselves on the web. For as often as they get praised for their rapid-fire wit and imbedded culture, it’s also become familiar to any fan of their standup act to see Beatriz toss off repeated game-show moments to nonplussed commentators. Love it or hate it, it’s used to great comic effect.
That’s the burden of origin story, and any kind of comeback is easy when you can use the previous work as a skeleton.
Encanto, which airs in the UK on Sky Arts in 2019, sticks out from the crowd in that it is the first show of an anthology series of six episodes in which each pair keep theirs anonymity and create their own show. For Stephanie and Kristen, that was Ghostbusters (1997), while currently, they are delving into World of Warcraft. Or, if you prefer the apropos, they have been paid to live in 2017 and tour different parts of the world.
Unlike The Other Woman, Pitch Perfect, The League, Detour or any other season-length documentary/talking-head special where musical artists team up with TV vets or major film directors, the aim here was never to make their characters act like them. There are still characters here, but they are mostly based on personality and a shared passion rather than a movie background.
For Superstore, Stephanie has acquired an air of how-did-that-happen – she introduced herself to 30 Rock’s Alec Baldwin before meeting Schaal at Chicago’s famed Second City, where their paths crossed and she was invited to join. In Signs, she plays not just the manager of a new corporate logo for an insurance company, but a woman trying to catch the attention of her competing agents.
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In Captain Better Than Me, she is trapped in an institution with a brain-damaged brother and a hyperbolic mother while finding herself also playing a narrator. In Match, Kristen plays a harpist who discovers that she can work on other instruments and makes a living singing with odd groups. And in the original pilot, they take on the crime genre, creating Homeland: Beverly Culpepper, a Chicago cop, and her partner Clips, a tough woman, which first aired on Showtime, in a screwball buddy story dealing with cellphone theft.
At its heart, the show is happy to allow its stars to find their own pasts and pull from familiar sources. Because Rob Lowe and Justin Theroux, although they have dual showrunning credits, previously had known each other in life, they got the second episode of the series, The Cromes, about the strange history of the Culpepper family-owned bank. Theroux later tweaked this episode by making Clips a best friend and then adding a secret past that makes the film feel like two separate shows.
But there are other stories here. In an even more cockeyed bit of casting, Blue Bloods star Michael Kelly guest stars as Donald Trump. Kelly’s performance adds another layer to an already eccentric character, and one that seems to come apart when he is forced to leave the stage. And in a more subtle yet illuminating parallel, Laurence Fishburne pops up as an ungrateful Asian student at the same university.
Every one of the guests bring a thing or two to the role, and part of what makes the show so fun is watching them find them. Those might be the most surprising match-ups of all – Bobby Moynihan, Tina Fey, Sherri Shepherd, Rob Lowe and Jane Lynch as Team Galactic; James Marsden as Paul Rudd’s character’s father; Morgan Freeman as Beatriz’s estranged brother – all making unique use of these long-lost faces. Their take on actual characters they have never played before may be obscure, but that’s part of the fun.
Encanto on Sky Arts begins on 23 January at 9pm.