Netflix's Lonely Island Special Explained: The True Bash Brothers Story

The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience marks the latest project from the comedic trio known as The Lonely Island. The group consists of Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone - all of whom grew up together in Berkeley, California and later worked together at Saturday Night Live. The Lonely Island produced the popular SNL Digital Short segments, and later collaborated for the feature films Hot Rod and Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. Taccone recently voiced the characters Norman Osborn/Green Goblin and Spider-Man of Earth-067 in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and Schaffer is set to direct a live-action adaptation of Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers. And, of course, Samberg stars in the NBC series Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

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Read More: The Lonely Island Just Dropped New Music Videos... and A Netflix Poem

The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience contrasts 1988 pop culture with the visual complexity of a Beyoncé visual album. The result is a comedic hip-hop mash-up in which the subjects rap their way through life’s ups and downs, and figuratively fly too close to the sun.

The Bash Brothers True Story

The Bash Brothers

In 1988, Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco become pop culture phenomenons while playing for the Oakland Athletics. After each home run, the teammates met at home plate and bashed their forearms together; a celebration that was a little more exciting than the typical high-5. In professional sports, the “Monster Bash” became a trend. On a larger scale, both Canseco and McGwire became recognizable superstars, large in part to a massive marketing campaign that was based on the visual style of The Blue Brothers.

In the early ‘80s, Dan Aykroyd and the late John Belushi performed as The Blues Brothers on Saturday Night Live. They wore black suits, black shades, and black hats. The Bash Brothers later adopted a similar look, but one that matched the Oakland Athletics' team colors, along with baseball slugger trends of the time: borderline mullet hairstyles, big shades, big bravado.

By 1988, McGwire was a 24-year-old entering his second full season in the big leagues, this coming after he launched 49 home runs during his rookie campaign and won the American League Rookie of the Year award. Canseco was only 23 years old when the 1988 season began, but had won the American League Rookie of the Year award two years earlier. McGwire, a native Californian, was known for his stoic demeanor, while Canseco - a Cuban-American - was marked by charm and personality. The Oakland Athletics made it to the 1988 World Series but were eventually defeated by the Los Angeles Dodgers. As a result, The Bash Brothers lost some hype during the off-season, especially when rumors of steroid use intensified. In 1989, the Oakland Athletics won the World Series; a temporary moment of redemption for The Bash Brothers.

McGwire famously denied any steroid use during the ‘90s, and he eventually broke the single-season home run record in 1998 when he belted 70 homers and destroyed the previous record of 61, set by the New York Yankees’ Roger Maris in 1961. For a brief moment in time, The Bash Brothers were baseball heroes and pop culture superstars. But their steroid use forever changed how they were perceived by baseball purists, fans, and the general public.

Today, The Bash Brothers are often remembered for being central figures in Major League Baseball’s “Steroid Era.” Both McGwire and Canseco ultimately admitted to steroid use, which tarnished their legacies as professional athletes. This is the narrative foundation for Netflix’s The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience; a comedic and surrealistic interpretation of what transpired in 1988 Oakland.

How The Lonely Island Adapted The Bash Brothers Story

The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience Netflix

The Lonely Island Presents: The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience is a song of icy existential angst and fiery baseball-themed raps. In the Netflix comedy special, Samberg and Schaffer play Canseco and McGwire, respectively. The 30-minute mockumentary is seamlessly connected by various music videos, all of which touch upon The Bash Brothers’ bravado and deepest fears. To begin, the short film establishes the basis for the appropriate narrative context: Oakland, 1988. For the comedic premise, The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience suggests that McGwire and Canseco “recorded an album… of raps.” 

The Netflix short includes 11 songs that drive the narrative. In between segments, the characters’ dramatic voiceover narration addresses their inner turmoil and quest for inner peace. The music segments emphasize the characters' style, whereas the transitional/existential sequences take place in the great outdoors. Early on, Canseco and McGwire are framed as baseball angels, two heroes who flew close to the sun, much like the mythological figure Icarus. In this case, however, the sun is a metaphor for rampant steroid use (which can, of course, also be harmful to the body).

For each song, steroid use is, in fact, a recurring theme - primarily for Schaffer’s McGwire. An early jam entitled “Jose and Mark” establishes the characters’ personalities, while the follow-up tune “Oakland Nights” is thematically similar to The Lonely Island classic “Dick in a Box.” McGwire and Canseco try to impress Oakland women with their tender and gentle personalities, but it turns out to be just a dream and sets the stage for a transitional sequence in which both characters appear to be drowning. “Will we ever find love?” Canseco muses, just before the track “Focused AF” kicks in, which demonstrates that Canseco and McGwire were indeed "focused as f*ck" during the 1988 season.

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In the second half of The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience, the heroes struggle with daddy issues but take refuge in the fact that they can bench press human women. Still, the audience learns that fame is difficult to deal with, and both McGwire and Canseco have trouble accepting that some people just want to see their butts in tight baseball uniforms. Plenty of pop culture references are peppered throughout, whether it’s Canseco’s relationship with Madonna or McGwire’s preferred method of buying steroids (in bulk). For some extra comedy, a parking lot moment features an all-female dance sequence, and the soundtrack itself touches upon the musical aesthetics of both The Beastie Boys and The Bay Area sound of the late ‘80s. As the visual poem reaches its conclusion, Canseco states that “It’s 1988, and the season went well." This sets up Oakland’s World Series loss and a final hip-hop banger called “Let’s Bash," of which teases The Bash Brothers' subsequent 1989 success.

From beginning to end, The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience portrays Canseco and McGwire as fragile souls who seek validation through baseball. They’re humanized yet also framed as mythological figures with majestic wings. By the end, a credits sequence features The Lonely Island’s Taccome as a noticeably effeminate and confident version of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana, a character who suggests that he’s “crushing tang.”

Overall, The Lonely Island Presents: The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience captures the subjects’ pop culture personas, all the while offering insight into their hopes and fears way back in ‘88. For every home run and for every monster bash, Canseco and McGwire remain mere mortals with unresolved personal issues; a universal and relatable concept. 

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