Not many programs in the deep annals of basic cable bore a more fruitful bounty of bad-taste, more-filling goodness as Wonder Showzen. Thankfully preserved in streaming amber on Paramount+, this blend of puppetry, animation, segments hosted by children, and reminders that humankind might not really be worth all this trouble seemed to escape more than simply air on MTV2 in the mid-2000s. It earned its epigram, which urged those who confused this for a cartoon to abandon all hope: “The stark, ugly and profound truths Wonder Showzen exposes may be soul-crushing to the weak of spirit” filling the screen while disembodied voices screamed “Not my baby!” underneath a droning in the surround channel.
One of Showzen’s finest recurring bits was “D.O.G.O.B.G.Y.N.,” an animated bit that’s both what you expect when spelling out the letters and more inappropriate than you thought possible. Suffice to say: As one of the minds behind “D.O.G.O.B.G.Y.N.,” Showzen co-creator John Lee has thrown down quite a gauntlet for himself of serrated-edge satire about the experience of childbirth through atypical means and a man telling a character named Lucy that she’s stupid.
Flash forward 15 years, though, and he tries running it as co-writer and director of False Positive, a film that begins streaming Friday on Hulu. On paper, Lee would seem to click well with his contemporary creative cohort, Ilana Glazer (of Broad City), who also co-writes and stars as Lucy. At least False Positive doesn’t just retread territory definitively claimed by another film in this vein that’s a half-century old; what’s happening here tips away from the supernatural and more toward the (sadly) super-normal along the veins of Get Out or, well, any other piece of mental-anguish horror onto which studio A24 has also slapped its name. The problem is half-baking every one of its ideas — from reconciling its attempted assault on the patriarchy’s dismissal of mental distress during pregnancy as “mommy brain” with an is-she-crazy? climax meant to make you go “Hmmm” and doing far too little with the nigh-mob wife privilege Glazer’s Lucy embodies as a high-society New York spouse.
For years, Lucy and her reconstructive-surgeon husband, Adrian (Justin Theroux), have tried to become parents the old-fashioned way. But if they’ve got to turn to scientific support, at least they’re visiting John Hindle (Pierce Brosnan), the crown prince of assisted conception. Dr. Hindle is Adrian’s old surgical mentor. Yeah, it’s a little creepy that his assistants wield iPads while dressing straight out of 1950s medical textbooks, but they’ll at least correct Lucy’s preferred name in the database right away. Plus, soon enough, Lucy is expecting. And expecting. And expecting.
Becoming a mother of three in a matter of minutes is overwhelming enough to Lucy. What’s even tougher is Dr. Hindle’s suggestion for her birth plan, a domino effect of decisions that will almost certainly splatter placental carnage all over one of the many sterile sets and likely send at least one character over the edge into rage. No spoilers, but an early off-handed comment tells you either where this is going or where Lucy believes it’s going. The problem is that neither option is engrossing. Given Lee’s emotionally distant and visually clinical direction of satirical and sinister elements, False Positive is incapable of showing much at all by its third trimester.
At least a few good zingers befit the absurdist brains behind two of the century’s greatest TV comedies so far, particularly in all of the self-congratulatory back-slaps that the men in Lucy’s orbit give each other in “scooping” her joyful news before she can even deliver it. Glazer also nails a moment of repugnant racial dominion on a line like “Your whole thing inspires me” to a Black midwife played by Zainab Jah. Having cornered the market on “overprivileged suspicious weasel,” Theroux offers no more and no less. Brosnan knows he’s there to poison the pill just so with his Bondian baggage. The Peter Pan imagery basically infuses the confused calculus of the ending with an ironically soothing Leonard Bernstein showtune.
Frankly, more gnarly obstetric surprises awaited during any two minutes of “D.O.G.O.B.G.Y.N.” So False Positive isn’t mansplaining, just manspreading — an annoyance that takes more room than needed at feature length when commercial-break anthological horror suits it fine.