Brazil’s controversial hit comedy troupe Porta dos Fundos is gearing up to release its annual Christmas Special, “The Edge of Theocracy,” on Dec. 10. A play on Petra Costa’s Oscar-nominated documentary, “The Edge of Democracy,” a trailer released Nov. 20 on its dedicated YouTube channel lured more than 300,000 views in three days.
Porta dos Fundos’ Christmas specials are renowned for their ironic, some would argue profane, take on the life of Christ.
Taking its cue from Costa’s “The Edge of Democracy,’ which points to Brazil’s spiral into far-right politics as a cautionary tale to the world, “The Edge of Theocracy” satirizes Brazil’s political scene and delivers tart comments on global issues, such as polarization, through the prism of Biblical events thousands of years ago. A delighted Costa gave her blessing and makes a brief appearance as herself in the show.
Shot in less than a week, the troupe opted for the documentary format in order to better adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols. The use of talking heads and testimonials were the perfect solution to rules on social distancing, said co-founder/writer Fabio Porchat, who spoke to Variety while filming some scenes outdoors last September.
Porchat, who plays Jesus, was standing in the middle of a field in sweltering 95F (35C) heat, with trees and mountains in the distance, while just behind him, his actors were playing out some scenes.
Their 2019 Xmas special, “The First Temptation of Christ,” featured a gay Christ, which unleashed a firestorm of complaints, a petition to ban the special signed by more than two million people and worst of all, a Molotov cocktail attack on their headquarters which caused a fire that was fortunately put out by alert security guards.
“This is our seventh Christmas Special and they’ve always been provocative; only last year’s special produced a backlash,” he pointed out, suggesting that being the first one released during the tenure of current populist President Jair Bolsonaro made it a target. “His government is promoting fundamentalist religious thought,” he asserted.
There were some calls to cancel Netflix subscriptions, which the trailer cheekily refers to. “If you cancelled Netflix, get ready to cancel YouTube,” it declares, signaling the troupe’s return to their dedicated YouTube channel. Their last two Christmas Specials, “The First Temptation of Christ” and “The Last Hangover,” were Netflix Originals. The latter won a Best Comedy Int’l Emmy in 2019.
“We reach a bigger audience on YouTube,” said Porchat who added that ViacomCBS, which took a majority stake in Porta dos Fundos in 2017, co-produced this year’s special with Porta dos Fundos.
Porchat admitted that the bombing of their H.Q. raised their international profile so he’s grateful for that.
He is a self-confessed Monty Python fan, especially their irreverent comedy about a hapless man who is mistaken for the Messiah, “Life of Brian.” “We don’t insult the Bible, we research the subject matter quite extensively,” he noted.
No one is spared their satirical touch, including Buddha, Shiva and some alien creature who replies, “Ask Tom Cruise!” when asked to explain what he is in “The First Temptation of Christ.”
In “The Edge of Theocracy” various “messiahs” weigh in on an investigation of Jesus’s legitimacy.
The new special promises to be a gleeful poke in the eye to the troupe’s critics.