In 2014, Kiwi comedians and friends Tim Batt and Guy Montgomery had a bad idea: To watch Adam Sandler’s half-assed movie sequel Grown-Ups 2 not once, not twice, but 52 times — once a week for an entire year. They chronicled their hellish journey in a podcast aptly titled The Worst Idea of All Time. Since then, Batt and Montgomery have had this same terrible experience four more times — a new season centered on the legendary soft-core porn franchise Emmanuelle has just begun — racking up more than 200 episodes about two people, trapped in an endless limbo, watching the same disaster unfold week after week, hoping desperately for something to change, for something to improve, but nothing ever does.
I’m a long-time fan of The Worst Idea of All Time. I started listening during Season Two, when the two New Zealanders were in the midst of watching a year’s worth of Sex and the City 2, the self-indulgent, 150-minute(!) death knell of the franchise. The podcast works like this: They record episodes after each of their viewings, partially reviewing the movie, partially recording their experience of watching the movie for the nth time and then — after about the 10th episode or so — trying to find new ways to keep talking about the movie, as well as prevent themselves from going insane.
If you think this sounds too repetitive to be fun, it is… for Tim and Guy. For the show’s many listeners, it’s a blast. It turns out watching a movie 52 times in a row affords an unprecedented amount of reviewing, allowing the pair to meticulously comb over every scene for background actors, set design and continuity errors, such as their historic discovery of the man in the background of a brunch scene in Sex and the City 2, who, thanks to the miracle of editing, downs three giant cups of coffee and disappears.
As time wears on, Batt and Montgomery begin to create elaborate mythologies for the film’s characters to entertain themselves; for instance, in their version of SatC2, star Chris Noth’s Mr. Big is an illiterate pastor and disturbed inventor of things like the “jizzcuzi,” while Miranda’s son Brady is the Rat King of New York City’s legions of sewer-dwelling rodents. Meanwhile, the question of where Coffee Guy was going, what he was doing and why he needed so much coffee for it was a season-long concern. (If you watch their excellent pilot for YouTube’s failed Red service, you’ll get a good idea of how they spin comedy out of repeated viewings, as well as their unwavering commitment to their projects.)
Fifty-two viewings of the same movie can constrain the most boundless of imaginations, but with that much time, their relationship to the film and the project evolves, too. You never know when someone will be in an oddly good mood, completely hungover from the night before, or suddenly had a bout of Stockholm syndrome kick in. “When you’re doing it, you sort of have these undulating highs and lows where you experience delirium,” says Montgomery. “But any time you’ve got genuine perspective and you’re like, ‘This is what we’re doing’, it’s the worst feeling.”
Hearing them commiserate about the agony of their self-imposed torture only gets funnier as the seasons go on, because they hold nothing back. “The thing about our podcast is we’re brutally honest,” explains Batt. “So anything you hear us discuss about our mental well-being, our mood, it’s 100 percent from our heart to your ears.” And while their friendship is always rock solid, the horror of what they’re doing forces their dynamic to change as well; it’s fascinating to hear how they each end up taking turns as team leader, trying to rally the other to soldier on through the pain, and then gleefully take out their misery with the movie on each other, too.
“Grown-ups 2 got really bad there for a while, particularly when Guy was in Edinburgh, Scotland, and I was here [in New Zealand],” remembers Batt. “There was an episode around my birthday where I had to get up at 2 a.m. to do a Skype call and Guy wouldn’t tolerate or give me any sympathy whatsoever, and that’s funny. To have a friendship strong enough that one of us could be truly suffering and the other could be, ‘Fuck you more, here’s more.’ That’s a really funny thing to listen to.”
Season Four (where they watched the first Sex and the City movie) ended last year, but when the original COVID-19 lockdown hit the planet, the two dropped an “emergency” season where they remotely took on Home Alone 3 once a week. It was a lovely bit of levity until New Zealand got the coronavirus under control with thoroughness and alacrity, causing the project to end a mere 10 episodes in. (New cases have cropped up since.) It was — well, calling it a bummer would make me a monster, but suffice it to say, I missed them over the summer. When they announced a new, full season would be arriving in August — this time tackling the softcore universe of Emmanuelle — I found myself thrilled to a level I’d never had for The Worst Idea of All Time before, and it took me a little while to realize why: It’s because The Worst Idea of All Time is the perfect quarantine podcast.
There’s no need to recap the last six months of life in America, but obviously, since the first haphazard lockdowns, nothing has ever seemed to get any better and no one knows when we’ll finally spot a light at the end of the tunnel. Compared to far, far too many people, I’m safe and reasonably secure, and so far, my circumstances have basically stayed the same since the COVID-19 era began. However, even though my days have remained essentially unchanged since March, it’s harder for me to get through a day in September than it was in April. The seemingly endless routine of living in the pandemic gets a tiny bit more difficult every day, slowly building upon itself, making it worse than the sum of its parts. Again — sound familiar?
Let me be abundantly clear: The difference in the stakes between staying home during a pandemic to stay safe and voluntarily watching the same dumb move over and over again are so vast it’s ludicrous, but there’s surely a distant parallel in the drudgery of slogging through an arduous, depressing and seemingly endless slog for no readily discernible benefit, whether it’s the grind of everyday living or the grind of watching Zac Efron’s non-star-making turn in We Are Your Friends for a year (Season Three). If you think I’m insane, well, at least Montgomery agrees with me!
“At the start of the first lockdown, I sent out a tweet that was somewhat humorously self-aggrandizing, but also contained a nugget of truth,” he explains. “So many of the people who listen to it, when they reach out, they say that we’re great company for whatever menial or like, distasteful chores or tasks they’re taking on, and staying in your house is one great, collective distasteful chore. It elevates the value of listening to people who choose to do this to themselves because there’s a point of difference from [people who] have to do this.”
The show now has such a fervent fanbase that in February 2016, the pair began an intermittent Friendzone side podcast to answer the plethora of mail they receive, and it recently celebrated its 100th episode. If you listen to these (and you should, they’re a lot of fun unto themselves), you’ll notice a recurring theme: The show has had many, many fans write to them over the years thanking them for being their companions while studying for their degrees, moving across the country, dealing with sustained medical issues and more.
While The Worst Idea of All Time’s fifth season was in the works before COVID-19, it premiered on August 10th. This time, they’re shaking things up a little: Instead of watching the same movie 52 times in a row, they’ve chosen to tackle the Emmanuelle movies, the gargantuan softcore pornography franchise that spawned 52 official films, spinoffs and reboots — including Emmanuelle in Space, Black Emanuelle and Emmanuelle Through Time — along with potentially dozens of unofficial movies, often starring the apparently legally viable characters Emanuelle and Emmanuelle.
Any kid in America who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s and had access to Cinemax’s “After Dark” programming block likely knows the Emmanuelle movies, which were mainstays on Fridays after midnight, and the most consistent place to see women’s breasts if your parents or a friend’s parents had the pay-cable network. In New Zealand, Sky TV provided a similar service, importing blocks of U.S. TV programming and movies wholesale, including similar naughtiness. “Guy and I — and people our age in New Zealand — would have [movies like Emmanuelle] as a cultural touchstone, as their first exposure to pornography,” explains Batt. “We thought it would be funny to revisit. It’s a funny thing to put in the calendar, as part of our workweek, as part of our lives — to schedule a time to watch an old-school, soft-core porno.”
While Batt and Montgomery waxed rhapsodic about the first two Emmanuelle movies in Season Five’s first two episodes, if you’re concerned that watching different movies might dull the pain they inflict upon the duo, don’t be. “They got worse,” Batt says, with the tiniest hint of dread creeping into his voice. “In many ways, one of the cruelest twists of the Emmanuelle series is that all the movies are different.”
While their pain is only beginning, I’m genuinely relieved to know that no matter what fresh hell the next 12 months may bring, I have 50-plus more visits with Batt and Montgomery to look forward to and help sustain me through it, even if that was never part of their plan. “It’s always wonderful to know we’ve helped at all, but at no point have Tim and I put our heads together and said, ‘Let’s go help,’” says Montgomery. “It’s always, ‘Let’s do this thing, and if people like it, great, and if they don’t, we’re idiots. And even if they do like it, we’re still idiots.’”