Essential Viewing: David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Sitcom ‘On the Air’

When it comes to comedy in the work of David Lynch, the humor lies in the absurdity of it all. It’s the idiosyncrasies and personal affinities in everyday life that he hyper-exposes to bring forth a deranged and wonderful sense of humor. “Very absurd and really stupid. I love that combo, but apparently nobody else does,” Lynch has said about his particular love of jokes.

Whether its the dark underworld of Blue Velvet or the whispers between the trees of Twin Peaks, you can always find a comedic moment lurking inside Lynch’s psychological dramas. But a flat out comedy is certainly not necessarily something we’d expect from the mind behind such penetrating features. Yet in 1992, after Twin Peaks’ rocky second season had ended, Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost teamed up again to create On the Air—a 1950s-set sitcom taking place behind the scenes of a broadcasting comedy.

Debuting in the summer of ’92, we enter the world of the, “fictional Zoblotnick Broadcasting Company, producers of the hapless variety program The Lester Guy Show. Lester Guy himself, an alcoholic silver-screen leading man who rose to fame by staying out of the Second World War, spends most episodes vying for popular supremacy against his cast’s blonde ingenue Betty Hudson, who may remind you of an even simpler version of Sandy Williams, the Laura Dern character in Blue Velvet.”

Speaking to the show in his brilliant Premiere story “David Lynch Keeps His Head” David Foster Wallace referred to On the Air as  “bottomlessly horrid,” mentioning that the show was, “cuthanatized by ABC after six very long-seeming weeks.” And that after the downfall of Twin Peaks’ final season and the subsequent distaste for Fire Walk With Me, “The former object of a Time cover story in 1990 became the object of a withering ad hominem backlash.” But for all its bizarrely haphazard nature and remove from the wonder of Lynch’s work, it stills bares being watched and noted amongst Lynch’s rarer oeuvre.

Speaking to the success of his previous television work, lynch once said that, “Anything different on television is a potential success or just the opposite – a catastrophe. And for the most part it’s a catastrophe.” And in this case, he unfortunately fell into the latter for most audiences. But now you can watch  two episodes of the show for yourself—and to be honest, they’re much more palatable in retrospect, but that’s for you to decide. Enjoy.

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