For his HBO debut, Whitmer Thomas delivers an interesting special that combines musical comedy, documentary footage and tragedy, as he goes back to the Florida panhandle where it meets Alabama to perform at the same bar where his late mother used to rule the roost.
Whit’s first onstage joke doesn’t arrive until more than six minutes into the special, but it’s a humdinger, as he explains why, “When I was a kid, I was very cool.” How cool? A guy kidnapped him, but thankfully, Whit’s dad foiled the abduction before anything too traumatic could happen to him. In fact, it’d be Whit’s dad who’d cause the family’s first trauma by leaving when Whit was in the fourth grade. But he also spins that into clever punchlines, too.
Most of the other big moments onstage come via songs, as the former emo band singer/songwriter wails about being dumb and in love, about how he compensates in bed for his performance anxiety, or imagining emo kids all grown up, or trying to facilitate a singalong with the audience about his mom partying herself to death.
But the memories you’ll take from this special more likely will come from his interactions offstage with his various family members. There’s a cousin, who after skeet shooting and proudly displaying his Trump 2020 cap throughout the filming, breaks down while confessing that he hasn’t spoken to his mother (Whit’s Aunt Jude) in a decade. His dad, meanwhile, cheerfully is back in the picture. His aunt, tearfully so, now 63, but still the identical twin of Whit’s late mother, which makes their reunion that much more bittersweet. She recounts how the sisters’ band could’ve, would’ve and should’ve had a record deal with Virgin Records in the 1980s.