"The Life & Times of Tim" takes place New York, but it's a twangy Hank Williams number that sets the tone as the theme song: "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive."
The understated and underrated animated exploration of awkwardness ends its second season on HBO Friday night as one of the best in a wave of TV cartoons aimed at adult audiences.
The title character is a sardonic, if meek twenty-something sleepwalking through his cubicle job for a faceless corporation (the ominously and generically named Omnicorp). While eager to please, Tim rarely listens to his tolerant Cassandra of a girlfriend, Amy – and is pliable enough to be drawn into trouble and embarrassing situations by friends, strangers and co-workers.
Tim allows a women firefighter to falsely brag she rescued him – only to be taunted as a wimp and then vilified as a sexist when he reveals the truth. Tim plays a reluctant wingman as his buddy woos an animal rights activist – and ends up stuck with a circus elephant. Tim is a branded a “child hater” after refusing to buy Girl Scout cookies – then is bullied into taking a Boy Scout troop on a lame urban camping trip that leads the kids into a profitable, if illegal enterprise.
"Tim" lacks the outrageousness of "South Park," "Family Guy," and just about everything on Adult Swim. And the show doesn’t quite reach the verbal-humor heights of its hilarious HBO animated brethren, "The Ricky Gervais Show.”
Tim, though, could be the sad sack, confidence-challenged son of Larry David of "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Both shows pick apart seemingly mundane human interactions – encounters that inevitably snowball out of control and into angst for their anti-heroes. While the confrontational Larry instigates his own problems, Tim is swept into his by others and his own passivity.
Or as "Tim" creator and star Steve Dildarian put it in an interview with New York magazine a couple months back, "Larry David feels like he’s got the definitive opinion on everything, whereas Tim is much more easily swayed."
Imagine early Woody Allen funneled into an awkward, millennial milquetoast who is not quite sure of his place in the world or of what to do in any given situation. When Tim finally acts, it's often on bad advice and ends in disaster.
The simple animation recalls the 1990s Comedy Central gem "Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist" (though without the sea-sickness-inducing squiggle), and “Tim” shares the older show’s deadpan sensibility.
Tim also shares, with Hank Williams, a fatalistic certainty that nothing will go his way – and he’s done nothing to disprove it through two often-hilarious seasons that leave us hankering for a third. But “The Life & Times of Tim,” if anything, teaches us not to get our hopes up. As Mr. Williams sang, “No matter how I struggle and strive, I'll never get out of this world alive.”
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NY City News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.