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Mike Judge’s ‘Oh’ Face

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By Michelle Orange

IFC News

At last, Mike Judge and Justin Timberlake will have something to talk about over gluey hors d’oeuvres at the MTV Christmas party. Last month, Sony Pictures sent Timberlake’s first film “Edison Force” straight to DVD, and Judge’s second live-action feature, “Idiocracy,” looked like it was going to face a similar fate after Fox postponed its release indefinitely. Last week, it was reported that “Idiocracy” would indeed be released on September 1, but, in a triumph of studio passive-aggression, with zero marketing and only in seven cities: Austin, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Toronto, Atlanta, and Chicago. Sweet of them to look so fondly upon Judge’s home state of Texas (the film was also shot in Austin, where Judge is based), but somehow I’m guessing the gesture was lost on the writer/director, as the glaring omission of New York means the review coverage is considerably cut down.

“Idiocracy” stars Luke Wilson as a dim-witted soldier who agrees to be frozen in a Pentagon experiment, expecting to be revived a year later. Instead he’s forgotten, and five hundred years pass before he wakes to find himself, in a society dumbed-down to the point of plant food, to be the smartest man alive. The film was shot in 2004 and has become the ultimate tease for Mike Judge fans desperate for a fix: budget problems, production problems, and test-screening problems have ratcheted the bad buzz up so high only your Irish setter can hear it; now this.

Of course, Judge’s relationship with Fox has been an awkward one almost from the start; you and your Irish setter may have a more effective system of communication. Around the time that shooting for “Idiocracy” wrapped, Fox was hedging heavily about the fate of “King of the Hill,” Judge’s animated series for the network, to the point that the entire operation was shut down following its eighth season. Judge told the writers and animators to move on, only to have Fox call them scrambling back for one more season. In June of this year an Esquire profile of Judge stressed the strange and strained relationship he has with Fox, and the confusion he expressed about the fate of “Idiocracy” proved prescient. “I’ve never experienced anything like this,” Judge said, describing the process of finishing the photography two years ago only to get the bait and switch from various executives over special effects and then, a year ago, when the film was finally finished, marketing. “They’re just overthinking it, which is what they always do, It’s just about an average dumb-ass person who winds up in the future. It’s not about ‘What if you could travel through time…‘ It’s just dragged on way too long — a good seven months longer than “Office Space.” I could have made another movie after I locked the picture before this one comes out.”

What makes the decision to turf “Idiocracy” to 125 screens nationwide that much more unbelievable is Judge’s track record with 20th Century Fox; namely, “Office Space.” Released in February 1999 on a decent 1740 screens (to compare, “Little Miss Sunshine” is currently on 1400 screens), theories differ about why the corporate satire tanked so hard, but most come down to Fox’s bungled, barely-there marketing campaign. The film limped to 10 million dollars and faded away, but found an audience on DVD so voracious that in 2005 a trumped-up special edition was released (no Judge commentary) to keep the party going. By 2004 the “Office Space” DVD had made over 40 million dollars, is now acknowledged as a bona fide cult hit and has broken every record in Fox video history. That’s the kind of thing gets a studio’s attention, and, you would think, respect. In an interview this May, Judge had this to say about a sequel:

Fox has been asking about it. I don’t know. I finished this last movie I did, and I’ve got something else that I wrote that’s more like “Office Space,” in that it’s smaller and kind of character driven stuff, but I don’t know. I haven’t been working on a sequel. If I don’t just completely retire, I’d like to do another live action movie, something along the lines of “Office Space” I think. I’m kind of thinking about Christopher Guest’s career. How he, in the 90s, started making these little movies that have an audience, and I’d like to do something like that. Kind of lower budget comedies… “Idiocracy,” I think, is coming out Labor Day weekend. They told me that is the official release date. That was kind of a bigger effects movie and I think I’d like to get back to doing at least one or two more like “Office Space.”

What Judge is saying, and has stated more blatantly elsewhere, is that he is done with studio movies, and in future would rather raise money on his own for low budget features. And who can blame him; to quote Dirk Calloway: With friends like this, who needs friends?

Could “Idiocracy” be as bad as Fox clearly thinks it is? Test screening reviews have been mixed, but the general wisdom is that Mike Judge fans will go see Mike Judge movies. Following the quiet opening last Friday, a few reviews have trickled in, including a rave from the LA Times and a pan from Entertainment Weekly. In between are some dogged conspiracy theorists and the expected love letters from Judge die-hards. For most of us it will be a while — Fox has not yet issued a DVD release date — before we can decide whether Fox executives made the right decision or are indeed what the “Idiocracy” director might call “ahead of their time.”

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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