Season one of HBO’s—or, rather, Steve Dildarian’s—The Life and Times of Tim was possibly the animated cable curio of 2009. Eschewing the hyperrealist ribaldry and pop misappropriation with which the Adult Swim juggernaut has continued churning out meta catchphrases and anthropomorphic food stuffs worth silk-screening onto shoulder-hugging tees, Tim finds humor in our haplessly sublimated fury toward a quotidian world gone brutal. If Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Robot Chicken seem loosely adapted from manic, late-night culture riffs fueled by junk food and overworked/underpaid exhaustion, Tim embodies the brittle, belittling daytime awkwardness of our dead-end corporate jobs and mind-numbingly mundane relationships—a stunting reality we can only greet with a deadpan shrug and a two-day goatee. And so what if the show’s situational apparatus is often merely comic rather than actually funny? (Though, admittedly, the idea of a co-worker writing off prostitutes as a business expense by forging Kinko’s receipts inspires a newfound form of admirable laughter.) Who can afford hilarity in this economy anyway?
Dildarian must have recognized that the gently satirical, flat-line tone would only hold up for so long, however, as season two features a more diverse writing staff, bigger name guest stars (including Philip Baker Hall in a foul-mouthed plum of a performance), and more intense situations. It’s a bit jarring at first to see the hopelessly befuddled, off-the-cuff king riding shotgun with a pilled-up pharmaceutical salesgirl who’s threatening to drive her stolen vehicle off the George Washington Bridge, but that’s part of the gag: Dildarian is responding to stereotypical sophomore expectations by raising the stakes of his program’s conflicts in the hopes that his characters will grow as a result. Of course, there’s not much Tim can evolve into (how could the show be as consistent without his Gibraltar-esque poor judgment and underwhelmed demeanor?), but with season two Dildarian appears to be fleshing out the humorous particulars of his alter ego’s eerily familiar inanity.
In the first episode, we learn without fanfare that Tim’s girlfriend Amy has left him—funny in and of itself, since most of the prior shows have rebooted at an unexplained return to normalcy—and Tim responds by cultivating the most sloth-like version of himself, complete with steel-wool beard and ever-wafting body odor that attracts no more or less disaster than usual. Tim’s anti-attitude is perfectly in tune with the Sartre-like curse of today’s twentysomethings: We’ve been bred into bad luck so inexorably that throwing a muffin in the eyes of our oppressors, as Tim does toward a domestic intruder, is the most confidence we can muster. But we also discover with surprise in this new season possibly the one thing that unequivocally gives Tim pleasure: Frozen Charleston Chews, to which he once delivered a frustratingly 45-minute paean while attempting to make conversation at a party.
These cursory details and the added flourishes of violence that distinguish season two of Tim may draw the show dangerously closer to what’s expected of TV comedy, but the gained laughs also suggest an optimistic future for the irresistibly chic sense of give-up-ism to which the show adheres. Dildarian may be sacrificing some of his program’s charming modesty in an effort to stretch his world-weary protagonist, but he’s arriving at an archetype so like the worst of the current job- and cheap-Chinese-takeout-hungry youth that it’s almost as scary as it is funny. The new America, thy name is Tim.