Nirvana the Band the Show’s first season created a world in which pop culture references could lead to plot twists and revelations in the “real” lives of its main characters Matt and Jay. However, Matt and Jay’s film and tv obsessions were secondary to their primary goal: getting a show at the Rivoli venue on Queen Street in Toronto, despite having no original music. The first episode of the show’s second season flips this construct, and decides to focus on their cultural obsessions, leaving their Rivoli-based ambitions on the back burner.
The first clue comes in the opening shot of the Halloween-themed episode, The Book: instead of the title card featured at the beginning of every episode in season 1, listing the episode’s title and the subtitle, “Matt and Jay try to get a show at the Rivoli,” the episode starts suddenly, with Jay playing the Goosebumps theme on the piano, while a collection of R.L. Stine’s books are framed in the foreground of the shot. From here, the episode progresses with Matt going out to trick or treat on his own, while Jay stays home to clean up the house. In doing so, he discovers a Necronomiconish looking book in a floor grate. The book features a collection of movie themes, coded in Latin, that, when played, conjure the supernatural element from the film featuring said theme. The episode then progresses through a variety of hijinks inspired by Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Freaky Friday (1976), Jumanji, and An American Werewolf in London.
The Rivoli, other than being featured in the opening title sequence that is an homage to the classic Treehouse of Horror episodes of The Simpsons, is not mentioned until the very end of the episode, when, surprisingly, Matt appears to have convinced the owners of the venue to let them play. This success is then immediately undercut by Van Pelt, the villain from Jumanji, shooting Jay in broad daylight in a park in Toronto (trust me, if you haven't seen this show, it makes total sense).
The most exhilarating and entertaining aspects of the first season were the moments where I could not discern what was scripted and unscripted. When Matt and Jay travel to the Sundance film festival in The Big Time, did Matt really sneak their film in to the festival, and get a projectionist to show his film under false pretences? In The Blindside, did two spectators at a screening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens actually pick a fight with Matt and Jay over ruining the experience of the movie? As I’ve watched and rewatched the episodes, I have been able to piece together most of what I believe to be real and fake, but there are still a handful of unknowns that keep me guessing. In The Book, those questions did not come up, mainly because the episode took place almost entirely in the house. The “on the street” interactions felt like more of an obligation this time around, and did not have the same electricity of others in the earlier episodes.
However, that is not to say the episode was not electric. The miniature world Jay travels in to, the Art Attack spoof, the werwolf transformations and other moments are all incredibly inventive, and move with the same energy and passion the show always has. But if this first episode of the new season is a signal of things to come, it seems the focus will become less on the real world concern of getting a show at the Rivoli and wrapping real people into the world of the show, and more on developing the fantastic, referential world of Matt and Jay.
I am most interested to see if the show takes on a more serialized structure this season, as I picked up on a few hints that seemed to suggest they might go in this direction. In particular, Matt’s insistence that he knew nothing about the book, cannot speak Latin, and that he was glad the chaos was all over moments before Jay turned into a werewolf, all came off as more than a bit suspicious. In fact, after watching the episode multiple times, I’m convinced that Matt created the book in an effort to turn Jay into a werewolf, and that this will have lasting implications on both characters going forward.
A few notes and favourite jokes:
- The title sequence has some great homages to people and places of Toronto past, namely Sam the Record Man, Honest Ed’s, and former mayor Rob Ford, as well as classic Simpsons-inspired pun-based names and locations, like Spooky Dee’s, Zanziboo, Andrew Apphell, and Jay McScare-ol
- I am persistently perplexed by how Matt says the word “piano”
- Matt thinking Jay is actually inside of his head and that he has to avenge Jay’s death
- Matt is secretly a 9/11 truther
- Jay’s dejected remark of, “Who’s going to want to fuck me?”