The Webcomic Overlook #178: Space Time Condominium
Hey, I’ve got a sitcom pitch for you: take one unlucky schmo. Put him in a house with four roommates. There’s a redneck, a nerd, a wigger, and a homosexual. But get this! All of them are alternate reality versions of the same guy! They’re on a collision course with wackiness!
Which, to be honest, isn’t that farfetched an idea for a sitcom. Isn’t there a comedy about a guy in a doggy fursuit currently on the air at this moment on FX? However, this sort of pitch probably works best in the crazy 80’s. I suppose you can point to the Sherwood Schwartz era as true cartoony cheese in sitcoms, like when two cavemen traveled through time and space and five passengers setting sail on a three our tour. And yet, those 80’s sitcoms tried everything they could do to top that earlier weirdness. Ah, that was the time when you had sitcoms about alien life forms, robot little girls, and nerdy next door neighbors who build Urkelbots. And the “dramas” (if you could call them that) were even more cartoony. Need I remind you about four soldiers of fortune touring the LA area in a black van or a couple of moonshiners in an orange Dodge Charger? Of course I don’t.
Dave Dwonch has the same idea. His webcomic, Space Time Condominium, frames the situation as a failed 80’s Canadian sitcom. Yes, not only is it a cheesy sitcom, it’s also Canadian. Sorta gives it a nice aura of shoe-string production values, off-kilter wholesomeness, and a heaping dose of whiteness, doesn’t it?*
All five principle characters are named Griffin. Each of them is as one-dimensional as you’d expect. The wigger Griffin unapologetically dresses like Vanilla Ice and talks ghetto slang, and he’s secretly pursuing Earth-1 Griffin’s old girlfriend (who has a thing for black dudes). Redneck Griffin is a hothead who uses any excuse to punch someone. Nerd Griffin is a sexually repressed virgin. Gay Griffin is a total slut who will make passes at every man he sees, whether they’re straight or not.
This, by the way, also includes the “normal” Griffin, who’s stuck with the role of the straight guy. My guess is that he’s the one we’re supposed to sympathize with — the fish out of water who’s confronted with the weirdness around him. He’s just so bland, though. With the exception of nerd Griffin, normal Earth-1 Griffin tends to blend into the background the most… and at least with nerd Griffin, it’s partially intentional.
In fact, if there was any character that could make a claim to main character status, it would probably be the redneck Griffin. He’s just more interesting. He’s unashamedly frank, short tempered, a raging heterosexual… and just more interesting, overall. Despite adhering to an established template, redneck Griffin feels less one-dimensional than the other Griffins. Interestingly, Mr. Dwonch does a graphic novel collaboration with Daniel Logan called “Back In the Day,” which he posts in between Space Time Condominium “seasons”… and the most interesting guy is a redneck-Griffin-like guy, but played straight. Clearly this character is near and dear to Mr. Dwonch’s heart.
There’s also a sexy female Griffin named Griffine, who, let’s face it, you sort of expected since I mentioned that there were alternate reality versions of the same person. Also to be expected: she’s also a cold, pistol-wielding badass and the object of lust for all the straight male Griffins. I guess being utterly generic is par for the course since this is supposed to be some lame sitcom. Still… how come she doesn’t look anything like the other Griffins? The Griffins all have the same square chins. Griffine’s jaw is more tapered and feminine. I know her hair has the same shade of brown, but come on. That’s just sexist against lantern-jawed women!
The Griffins are brought together by a mysterious old man named the Gate Keeper. He seems like a typically nice guy but, as you might expect, he has a hidden agenda for bringing the Griffins together. It has something to do with a guy who looks like the unholy spawn of Darkseid and Toy Story‘s Emperor Zerg, and he apparently employs DeSaad Griffin.
By this point, Space Time Condominium comes down with a heaping case of the Cerebus Syndrome, to the point where Earth-1 Griffin lashes out at his roommates because they’ve been hiding their personal lives from him. I’m so wrapped up in so many layers of parody and irony that I have no idea if I’m supposed to take this development seriously or not. Why have you abandoned me, laugh track!!?!
Space Time Condominium feels like it runs out of gas on numerous occasions. I guess much of this can be written off with a “Hey, it’s supposed to be a cheesy sitcom. Everyone’s supposed to be a one-dimensional cliche, and none of it is supposed to make sense.” Maybe. The bottom line, though, is that it’s more awkward than entertaining.
For starters, the early comic tries to deliver on several flimsy premises, but almost immediately seems embarrassed about introducing them in the first place. There’s the laugh track, which we readers have to be reminded of every time it pops up with a reference note. It’s not a particularly funny joke, and it’s one that becomes more and more tedious the more times it’s repeated. It’s more like an obligation, something Space Time Condominium was stick with just because it was established in page 1. The “laugh track” disappears by Season 2, and it had become so superfluous at that point that I barely noticed.
And then there’s the characters. Again, it’s to set up the joke that everyone looks alike and is named Griffin. But seriously, how long can you do that joke before it’s tired? There’s not much material you can wring out of it beyond, “Wait, no, I meant the other Griffin.” In fact, the characters were created one-dimensionally to service that one joke. Again, shallow characterizations are likely a parody of standard sitcom characters… but, seriously, though, denizens of cheesy sitcoms about, say, a guy pretending to be gay so he can live in an apartment with two hot ladies tend to have more personality than they typical Space Time Condominium resident.
Supposedly wacky plots are tossed in and left hanging with little character development or payoff. There’s a plot where the rest of the Griffins try to get nerd Griffin laid. Things go wrong, as they are bound to do, and nerd Griffin becomes a little upset. So upset, in fact, that he talks to a picture of an 80’s supermodel, who commands him kill his roommates.
This twist falls flat on several fronts. First of all, it came out of nowhere. My reaction wasn’t, “Ha! So random!” It was, “Man, that was a desperate move to give nerd Griffin something to do.” Second, having nerd Griffin conclude the panel with a diabolical “Praise Jesus!” DID make me say “so random,” but NOT in a good way. And last but not least, I really didn’t care about what happens to the other Griffins at this point. They are, for the most part, just props. As broadly sketched as the characters of Punky Brewster may be, I still gave enough of a crap that I was rooting for them to get out of the haunted Indian cave alive.
I guess I’m being a little hard on Space Time Condominium because there are quite a few things I do like about this webcomic. I do like Mr. Dwonch’s oddball daring fortitude in commit to oddball ideas. I do like his quirky (but overall good-natured) sense of humor. I enjoyed his cartoony illustrations, which worked well in both the comedy sequences and the heavily dramatic portions where the fate of the multiverse was at stake. It’s just a shame that the story never comes together, becoming instead a messy, predictable compilation of worn-out gags and bland characters.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
(*Note to offended Canandians: come on! Rick Moranis, John Candy, Mike Meyers, and early Jim Carrey made that their entire schtick!)