Web Series: RIP Matt Villines of Matt and Oz

In this month’s web series column, we are not going to look a web series but at a filmmaker who have been occupying the space. Although their works have been featured and made for Saturday Night Live, the works of the duo known as Matt and Oz, comprised of Matt Villines and Oz Rodriguez, have been creating short films that were made for the internet sphere. Unfortunately, last week Villines succumbed to a long battle with cancer and died at the age of 39. In tribute to him, we are going to celebrate the works of a comedic auteur.

Saturday Night Live has been a breeding ground for some of the most innovative and transgressive comedy since its inception. One aspect of the show that has been overlooked in the show’s history is the freedom that they afford unique, individual comedy auteurs. Albert Brooks, Tom Schiller, Robert Smigel, Ben Stiller, Adam McKay and The Lonely Island all made comedic shorts that were specific to their sensibilities and SNL was their platform to showcase it. Since then, these filmmakers have become comedic mainstays in the entertainment industry.

Matt and Oz represented a continuation of that tradition of short filmmaking for SNL. The duo met while they were attending the Los Angeles film school where they were connected by similar comedic sensibilities. The internet provided a space for them to work together as they were hired to make shorts for the Adult Swim sponsored website, Super Deluxe in 2006. They then went on to gain traction with a wider audience as they begun making shorts for the Adam McKay and Will Ferrell ran website Funny or Die.

It was on SNL, which they joined in 2012, that they truly cemented their comedic voice. I first noticed them with their short “The Legend of Mokiki and the Sloppy Swish.” What is evident from this breakout short is how Matt and Oz is able to set the parameters of the world they are working in and letting any weirdness or awkwardness to drag.

A lot of Matt and Oz’s shorts plays on the reversal of genre expectations. In “The Standoff,” the traditional Mexican standoff in an action film, a source of tension and suspense, is punctured by the idea that they have other things to do. So while still in the Mexican standoff, everyone begins to do their everyday chores and errands. The same idea runs through another sketch, coincidentally titled “Standoff,” about a man whose thug-like attire literally wants to tango against any belligerents.

In 2014, they were nominated for an Emmy for their music video “Do It (In My Twin Bed),” a trope that they would continually revisit that never ceased to be funny. But, the best of Matt and Oz was the way they stay so sincere in all their sketches. They almost followed the Pixar model of not only wanting to make you laugh but to break your heart at the same time.

That is why they found a kindred spirit in the performer Mike O’Brien. O’Brien, who was a cast member of SNL for one season but a writer for many more, embodied sincerity in the face of absurdity. No matter what surrounded him, O’Brien just needed to flash his goofy smile placed on his aloof, gangly body and all is right with the world. In one sketch, “The Jay Z Story,” they juxtaposed the unbelievable awkward whiteness with O’Brien portraying rapper Jay-Z as sincerely as possible like a traditional biopic. “This is insane, I can’t believe I’m great at rap,” O’Brien says at point with a doe-eyed smile on his face.

Matt and Oz does have a feature film coming out soon, entitled Brothers in Law, that is currently in post-production. But, their shorts will fall into the pantheon of the SNL greats. Matt Villines’ life ended too soon but his talent and memory will live on.

Now my Top 3 Matt and Oz shorts

3. The Hit: Just bask in the glory of the sincerity shown in this short. Kenan Thompson, Jay Pharoah and Taran Killam are three people who are kill a person when they fall under the spell of the beauty of snow. The final punch line seems especially poignant for today’s tense political atmosphere.

Best Line: “It kind of feels like we are in our own snow globe”

2. Golden Globes: Kyle Mooney and Kate McKinnon play the most convincing kids. In this short, Adam Driver and Cecily Strong plays two writers who just won a Golden Globe and goes on a binge celebrating their win while their children are at home anxiously waiting for them to come home. This one of those that are so sweet that it can make you tear up. Also Ray Donovan references.

Best Line: “Hold on to your hat, you are about to get pounded”

1. Uber for Jenn: A great example of how well O’Brien works with the comedic style of Matt and Oz. He barely ever utters a word to Elizabeth Banks as her Uber Driver but the short fits in a world of its own. There is no escaping the bond that is formed with your Uber driver.

Best Moment: Getting to know each other montage