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Trust me, “Professor Hack Harddrive Hacks the Universe” is the least weird thing about this hidden Tubi oddity about creative expression.

Professor Hack

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As Tubi’s recommendation algorithms become more sophisticated, I’m afraid we may lose the sense of bargain-bin discovery that comes from digging through the forgotten back corners of its immense library. I’ve found some terrific movies this way, scrolling through endless pages of forgotten dreams and diving into a title with little more than a thumbnail poster and a trailer (if I’m lucky).

It’s not the most efficient method of discovery. Still, it gives me that sense of panning for gold, finding that forgotten gem or lost personal vision long relegated to obscurity, just waiting to be unearthed from among the dreck.

I doubt anyone from Tubi reads this humble column, but if they do, I want to offer a personal plea: please don’t make Tubi so polished that we lose that scrappy charm forever. Would I ever stumble across something like Professor Hack Harddrive Hacks the Universe again if we do?

Before we proceed, I want to acknowledge that this is not a good movie. I’m not entirely sure it can even be considered a “movie” in the conventional sense beyond that it comprises moving images and sound. Your enjoyment of it basically begins and ends with your tolerance for listening to a strange old man musing about the state of the world through his chosen medium of rhyming poetry.

Wait, where are you going?

I know it probably sounds unbearable, but if you are one of the vanishing few who might not be completely turned off by that description, hear me out.

A good professor is the creation of a unique individual named Paul Jeffrey Davids, a guy who has done a little bit of everything in the creative business.

He’s a poet, a painter, a memoirist, a documentarian – in short, he’s the sort of guy who’s been relentlessly creating for decades with little in the way of mainstream success to show for it. Professor Hack Harddrive is just the latest creation in a career full of them.

Admittedly, it’s a pretty half-assed character.

A longtime professor of “contemporary culture” at the fictional Dubious University, students eagerly sign up to hear his musings on life in the modern era. The character seems to mostly be a receptacle for some of Davids’ published poems and songs, and the movie is a collection of shorts in which everyone’s favorite rhyming prof shares his cleverly-worded point of view on any manner of subjects.

To truly understand the enigma that is Professor Hack Harddrive, I think it’s worth looking at the man who birthed him.

After graduating from Princeton University with a degree in psychology, Davids was hired as a production coordinator and writer on the Transformers animated series in the 80s and garnered writing credits on a few other animated shows throughout the decade. From there, he wrote a couple of other screenplays, eventually co-writing and producing the 1994 TV movie Roswell, featuring Kyle McLachlan and Martin Sheen.

This would apparently be the last time he’d work within the established studio system and recognizable stars, moving into offbeat documentaries like 1996’s Timothy Leary’s Dead, about the late LSD pioneer’s final days, and 2013’s The Life After Death Project, concerning the search for, well, life after death.

He’s also dipped his toes in scripted features with the 1999 fantasy Starry Night and the 2010 family drama Before We Say Goodbye. More recent credits include a very low-budget-looking kids show called The Grand Kingdom of Cookieland and, of course, Professor Hack Harddrive.

But as I mentioned, film is just one of Davids’ creative outlets.

He’s published several books, from poetry to memoirs, done hundreds of paintings, and probably a bunch of other stuff, too. In the 90s, he and his wife, Hollace, were hired by Lucasfilm to write several Star Wars novelizations. He’s forged a life in the creative arts seemingly without much of a road map, and while he’s never gotten much fame or acclaim, it seems like he’s figured out his own path.

So that’s the man, but what of the professor?

Well, for someone who claims to be pushing the boundaries of human thought, a lot of his material seems pretty stuck in the past. Gripes about telemarketers and befuddlement at the prevalence of tattoos, marriage jokes, complaints about the invasiveness of airport security, it all feels like material straight out of the late ’90s. Given that Davids is pulling from previously published works, I wouldn’t be all that surprised if it actually was.

There’s a certain element of middle-aged guy irritation with the idea of “political correctness” or having to police your language to avoid offending others, most overtly on the song “You’re Thinner, You’re Fatter,” which begins with a fairly backhanded disclaimer about being self-censored so as not to offend any “weight challenged” (his words) viewers out there.

It feels more quaint than anything actively malicious or anti-woke, and I believe him when he says he’s not out to genuinely hurt anyone’s feelings.

However, your mileage may vary on that score (the accompanying slide show of celebrities whose weight has fluctuated throughout their lives doesn’t help).

After so many years in the film game, you’d think that Davids would’ve brought in a little more technical know-how, but Professor Hack Harddrive is about as low-rent as they come.

It’s almost entirely just Davids in front of a green screen in his Hack Harddrive getup, interspersed with stock photos and livened up with the finest digital effects that Windows Movie Maker offers. At times, background music plays that does not in any way share a rhythm with the poem it’s accompanying, leading to moments that could be charitably described as “accidental avant-garde.”

The whole thing has the vibe of a hastily assembled inside joke for the benefit of family and friends rather than anything that might be released publicly.

It’s billed as a parody, though a parody of what exactly I’m not sure.

It runs about 80 minutes, which is short for a feature but too long for something like this. In a perfect world, I think the Professor is best consumed in small doses; perhaps a regular YouTube channel would be better suited for this material than strung together in one 80-minute overload.

If I haven’t sent you running for the hills with the last of my critical credibility in tow, I will say that some of the Professor’s poems are cleverly written and sometimes even chuckle-worthy. If you can get past the hoary subjects and crummy production value, there’s a sort of dorky charm to the whole enterprise that’s weirdly comforting.

At one point, Professor Hack describes himself as a man out of step with his times, and I think you can feel that with David, too; he’s the sort of guy who probably would’ve called himself a “humorist” a half-century or so ago. He might not be on the level of a Mark Twain or a Garrison Keillor, but it’s the sort of mildly amusing material you can’t help but crack a smile at once in a while (though again, smaller doses would probably be better).

I love learning about people like Paul Davids. His work might not be to everyone’s taste, but he’s spent his whole professional life creating, and I can’t help but be inspired by that.

Davids is an outsider artist in the purest sense, someone who hasn’t let a lack of mainstream success stop him from following his creative muses.

There are worse ways to live a life, that’s for sure.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 2.5

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