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Mike Judge’s Silicon Valley take on power continues in Tales from the Tour Bus

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The Morris Day and Prince episode is another strong exploration of insider / outsider dynamics

Photo: Cinemax

There are so many streaming options available these days, and so many conflicting recommendations, that it’s hard to see through all the crap you could be watching. Each Friday, The Verge’s Cut the Crap column simplifies the choice by sorting through the overwhelming multitude of movies and TV shows on subscription services, and recommending a single perfect thing to watch this weekend.

What to watch

“Morris Day and The Time,” an episode of Mike Judge Presents: Tales from the Tour Bus, an animated documentary series on Cinemax. For two seasons now, Tales from the Tour Bus has collected musicians’ wildest anecdotes about life on the road, playing alongside showbiz legends. Season 1 covered country music stars; season 2 focused on funk. The Morris Day episode is unusual, in that its true subject is really Day’s friend and rival, Prince. Each tale is introduced and narrated by Beavis and Butt-Head / King of the Hill creator Mike Judge, who adds his own personal opinions and analysis, explaining who these performers are and what their music means.

Why watch now?

Because Judge’s series Silicon Valley returns Sunday night on HBO.

This will be the sixth and final season for Silicon Valley, which debuted in 2014 as the story of a socially awkward but innovative coder Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch), who persistently struggles against the oppressive demands of tech giants and the personal weaknesses of his own friends. Over the course of the past five years, Judge and his creative team — aided by an all-star cast of comic actors, including Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani, and Zach Woods — have commented on the madness of modern business, where genuinely visionary ideas get choked to death by legal snafus and copycats. The show expresses a deep faith in the future of technology, but a skepticism about the people in charge.

That’s very much in keeping with the worldview expressed in other Judge projects, like the movies Office Space and Idiocracy, and the TV shows Beavis and Butt-Head and King of the Hill. Judge tends to see anyone with power — however petty and inconsequential the power might be — as something of a buffoon, inclined to egomania, insensitivity, and a lazy incuriosity about the world outside their sphere of influence. Judge has more sympathy with ordinary schmoes who just want to do a job they believe in for eight to 10 hours a day, then go home and play video games. He doesn’t see these regular folks as heroic. In his films and television shows, the powerless make just as many mistakes as the powerful.

Judge explores an insider / outsider dynamic in a lot of the episodes of Tales from the Tour Bus, which look at stars like Waylon Jennings and James Brown through the eyes of the men and women who spent months and even years playing shows with them around the world, and thus saw them at their weirdest. In the case of the “Morris Day and The Time” episode, Judge and his interview subjects tell the story of a colorful Minneapolis R&B act who became famous thanks to their old pal Prince, who played alongside Day, Jellybean Johnson, Jimmy Jam, and Terry Lewis when they were all starting out on the Twin Cities scene.

Prince produced the band, wrote most of their songs, and took them on the road as his opening act. In interviews with Johnson, Jam, Lewis, and Day, Tales from the Tour Bus reveals that Prince also controlled The Time’s level of individual creativity, and even how popular the band could become. A big part of the story in this episode is about Day risking his career by rebelling against his mentor, and then reconciling with him shortly before Prince’s death.

Photo: Cinemax

Who it’s for

Fans of King of the Hill and backstage drama.

The animation is much stiffer in Tales from the Tour Bus than it is in King of the Hill, but the design is similarly flat and cartoony, like something out of an underground comic book. And it’s hard not to hear traces of Hank Hill when Judge narrates — he played Hill on primetime TV for more than a decade. Judge’s deliberate pace and clipped Texas twang lends a kind of folksy authority to his pronouncements about the heyday of funk in 1984, when the acts who debuted in the late 1970s were suddenly hobnobbing at the Grammys.

Judge also just knows a good story when he hears it. The “Morris Day and The Time” episode gets into the nutty origins of Day’s “mirror dance” routine (as seen in the movie Purple Rain) and his arm movements in the song “The Bird” (inspired by The Flintstones). The episode also features reminiscences about the days when The Time and Prince’s band The Revolution toured together, and tried to outplay each other every night. This particular tale is about the rich rock star with the state-of-the-art motor coach and the high-end after-show parties, vs. his buddies from the old neighborhood, who hosted debauched orgies after gigs, then piled onto a broken-down bus that always smelled like gasoline. That right there is a Mike Judge kind of contrast.

Where to see it

Cinemax’s Max Go service, or via the Cinemax subscription add-on to Hulu or Amazon Prime. For more Judge, King of the Hill is on Hulu, and Silicon Valley is available via HBO.