Once a week, an audio program unpacks a strange, baffling sequence of events. While listeners are invited to piece together seemingly unrelated and unsettling scenarios, nothing ever quite adds up. Characters who start out charming quickly become grating and detestable. Episodes often end with more confusion than when they started. No, we’re not talking about Serial, (actually, we are, but over here at Serial Serial). We’re talking about A Prairie Home Companion, that endless source of folksy wisdom and Lutheran humor.
Proximity to Minnesota or retirement age is usually a good indicator as to whether the show is perceived as good, clean fun or a mercilessly protracted psychological assault. Raphael Bob-Waksberg, creator of Bojack Horseman, seems to believe the latter, but his lengthy post and familiarity with the specific quirks of the show suggest there’s at least a kernel of affection. Behold:
Every show starts with Garrison Keillor coming out and chatting for a little bit about nothing. The audience in the theater where the show is recorded LOVES this. I think for a lot of people Garrison Keillor feels like a part of the family, and therefore everything he says is adorable. I have never in my life met a person who actually feels this way about Garrison Keillor, but the laughter from the audience in the theater where the show is recorded leads me to believe that SOMEBODY SOMEWHERE must feel this way.
After he’s done chatting, Garrison Keillor sings a song, usually the melody of a pre-existing song but with new lyrics. It’s like a Weird Al song, if Weird Al only wrote parodies of songs at least thirty years old and they were all about doctors and lawyers and college professors. To give you a sense of the kind of songs I’m talking about: I don’t know if Garrison Keillor has ever sung a parody of Gilbert and Sullivan’s I Am The Very Model Of A Modern Major General with lyrics about contemporary American politics, but also yeah I do know, because he definitely has.
Anyway, the song is cute and fun and you start to think, “yeah, okay, you know what, maybe I do like A Prairie Home Companion,” but then he sings another song, and it’s like, “all right, guy, enough.” Then he sings like eight more songs.
After the songs, I guess there’s like some sketches? One is usually a noir parody about a grizzled private eye. There might be one of these in every show? There’s no way to know for sure. One is usually a sketch about cowboys, where most of the comedy comes from the juxtaposition of cowboy cliches with anachronistic modern life observations. Like maybe one of the cowboys is developing an app? That could be twenty minutes of showtime right there. The cowboy segment is usually brought to you by powder milk biscuits. Is that supposed to be a joke? Or is there an actual powder milk biscuit company that pays to sponsor the segment? Nobody knows. It’s a mystery.
If you’ve ever had A Prairie Home Companion follow you for hours on a road trip like a tailgating muscle car or wondered what horrible secrets are chained to a cinder block at the bottom of Lake Wobegon, you’ll appreciate Bob-Waksberg’s attempt at assembling its many confusing chapters and cast of opaque characters into a coherent narrative.