Comedy Central series subverts the daytime courtroom show by plying everyone with cannabis. What happens when the cameraman is too high to shoot straight?
Stage Five at Hollywood Center Studios has all the amenities one would expect from the standard Los Angeles soundstage: high-powered air conditioning, green rooms, and a veritable buffet of cables for all manner of film-making activities. When visiting the set of the new Comedy Central series The High Court with Doug Benson a parody of daytime courtroom shows such as Judge Judy the thing that stood out was the ventilation system designed to filter out smoke. You see, the entire cast has been getting stoned all day.
Benson, a standup comic best known for his podcast Getting Doug with High and the documentary Super High Me, is the drug-fueled mind behind the new series. Hes made a substantial comedy career out of embracing marijuana culture at a time when weed is the most socially acceptable its ever been, and on the verge of being legal in California. So, when producer Kevin Healy approached him with the idea of doing Judge Judy, but Im the judge, and Im really high, as he calls it, it was an easy sell to the network. Easiest pitch of my career, he tells me via email.
No one seems particularly concerned about fire code issues or draconian federal drug laws when I arrive on set. Of course, this was long before the Trump administration started threatening states that have passed legal marijuana laws with justice department hassles. At first glance, one wouldnt even guess that anything remarkable was afoot on the set, save for the generally sleepy faces of Benson and this episodes guest bailiff, Brandon Wardell. Once the between-takes bong rips start and the cast does its best to field notes from executive producer Daniel Kellison, it becomes clear how unique this series really is.
Any fantasies of a free contact high disappear thanks to that damn ventilation system. The crew wasnt very close to us when the bailiffs and I would smoke in the deliberation room, Benson says. The deliberation room is a set adjacent to a picture perfect recreation of the standard daytime TV courtroom, far enough away to prevent the union hands from being impaired during filming. Plus, as Benson puts it, sound stages have very high ceilings, so the smoke would just float up, up and away. Above the deliberation room is a series of what look to be aluminum tubes that snake up into the air, carrying the controlled substance out of the area.
Each of the 20 first season episodes of the High Court is a scant 15 minutes long, making it feel more like a deep cut Adult Swim show than the standard Comedy Central fare. The humor is surreal, halting, and takes advantage of the spaces in between long pauses, confused faces, and the oblivious reaction of its leads to the somewhat manufactured human drama taking place in front of them. Because the episodes are so short and the action is captured with multiple cameras, the shooting moves rapidly. Theres no studio audience to filter in and out of the stage, no pauses for line readings or complicated set-ups. Its all done on the fly, or at least thats how it appears from a distance. After an uninterrupted 15-minute take in the courtroom, Benson, Wardell and Kellison get together to discuss what they might have missed and what they can pick up. Plus, eventually, they have to rule on the case at hand.
This particular show, featuring two hairdressers fighting over a destroyed weave, wraps in a little over an hour. Benson and Wardell are as confused about the particulars of the case as I am, though they have a medicinal reason for it. It seems as though the plaintiff, Tammy, alleges that the defendants tiny dog named Lil Mama ate her weave when it arrived in the mail. A nervous dog unwilling to stay in one place is a distraction for any sober person, let alone someone whos been smoking. During the deliberation scene, they have to wrap even faster than usual, because Lil Mama is known to urinate when nervous.
The High Court is not the first, nor will it be the last, TV show to center itself around conspicuous consumption of marijuana. By 2020, the legal weed business could generate up to $8bn in sales in the United States. In California, where medical marijuana has been legal since 1996, weed dispensaries seemingly dot every strip mall as far as the eye can see. Trumps threats to crack down on legal weed are wholly quixotic. If America can accept a TV series where the law is dispensed by people smoking weed, what hope is there to ever roll back the tide of legalization? Benson is optimistic when I ask him where he sees the marijuana legalization fight going. I think as more states see the revenue that could be brought in by weed sales, and the lack of bad incidents related to weed in places where it is legal, um, I forgot the question.
The High Court with Doug Benson starts at midnight tonight ET on Comedy Central