Scott Aukerman, Paul Scheer, Carly Rae Jepsen (Greg Gayne/IFC)

When Scott’s hotly anticipated after-show hamburger is purloined (purloined, get it? Because it’s a cut of beef? Admittedly, not a cut commonly used for burgers, but, oh, just forget it) by The Ham Robberer (Stacy Elaine Dacheux), a merry chase is afoot. Add in RobotCop—not RoboCop, but a similar “remorseless law enforcement machine designed to administer justice”—and it looks like a Grade A (get it? Oh, never mind) episode of Comedy Bang! Bang!

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But, like The Ham Robberer (and, it turns out, RobotCop), looks can be deceiving.

Like Zeke (Baron Vaughn) hesitating to kill a human being over the theft of a hamburger, Comedy Bang! Bang! doesn’t quite pull the trigger on this episode. All its parts look spectacular, but the whole doesn’t quite work. It’s like a burger with all the fixings and not much meat.

As the guest star, Carly Rae Jepsen is adorable, especially her soulful eyes as she says to the camera, “I… think I slept with the wrong judge,” but quiet. Her jaunty song to Scott is a fun inversion of her approachable pop persona. Instead of “Call Me Maybe” or “I Really Like You” (which Scott mistakes for a personal message she’s leaving for him “on my phone, in my radio, and in a video, and at the top of the pop charts”), Jepsen sings ““Hey, weirdo, don’t you ever, ever, ever, ever even think about it!”

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Scott declares her new song “a hit!,” never, ever, ever, ever even realizing she’s fending him off. It’s probably just as well these two crazy kids don’t get together, since Scott, as a widower of one year, hasn’t been… intimate… with a woman for 24 hours.

Being a widower doesn’t mean he’s alone! It’s fun to see Scott and Kid Cudi so enthusiastically in agreement over a petty annoyance:

“My biggest pet peeve is definitely when a cashier gives you your change and puts the coins on top of the bills. I mean, the coins just fall right on the floor! Why not put the coins in my hand first?”

“Exactly!”

“Or at least fold up the bills in some type of origami envelope and put the coins in there.”

“Of course!”

“Or just give me the bills and slip the coins in my back pocket when I’m not looking.”

“… okay, yeah.”

“Or just give me the change in the form of a single large gold nugget!”

“Preaching to the choir!”

“Or you know what? Keep the change and give me what I bought for free!”

“Makes sense to me!”

These guys are going to revolutionize commerce.

Otherwise, Kid Cudi is mostly in the background, which makes sense for the episode (and Reggie Watts spent plenty of episodes as sidekick in the background) but removes some of the spark of recent episodes, where the two Scotts were front and center.

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Cudi still provides plenty of good, small moments from his spot on the sidelines. His sharp, quickly contained vexation when RobotCop accuses him of plagiarism (“That is some bullshit. There is no way you can copyright a question!”) is a nicely layered take, adding some vim to a weak segment.

Another good Cudi moment comes when theme park owner Tim Duncan (Paul Scheer) explains that he endangered the lives of several roller coaster riders by slamming the emergency stop button when he heard screaming. Scott, understandably incredulous, asks “You’re an amusement park owner. You’d never heard that sound before?”

Kid Cudi’s stoic face (IFC)

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“No. Our rides are meant to be ridden stoically,” Duncan retorts, and the cut to Cudi’s deadpan example of stoicism is a grace note, an inessential piece that adds so much.

Grace notes aren’t enough to sustain an episode. Though the crisp performances, successful individual jokes, and visual appeal of “Carly Rae Jepsen Wears a Chunky Necklace and Black Ankle Boots” elevate a weak central narrative, they can’t turn middling material into great material. Instead, it’s an assortment of unrelated bits with surprisingly good style.

Check out The Ham Robberer: Even in a still photo, without the graceful capers and digitally scrambled warble, costume, gesture, and camera framing still convey the little crook’s panache.

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The Ham Robberer (Stacy Elaine Dacheux) (IFC)

In fact, all the visuals of this episode are striking, from the beautifully lit entrance of RobotCop to the subtle but noticeable color coordination of wardrobes. Carly Rae Jepsen’s burnt orange top, Scott Aukerman’s chestnut sweater, Kid Cudi’s plaid, The Ham Robberer’s (definitely not trademarked) orange, black, and white costume—they all look more planned and consistent than Comedy Bang! Bang!’s usual wardrobe. Even Paul Scheer’s socks are a dapper black and orange stripe, bringing his all-black suit into the mix of colors.

Scheer is adept at creating smiling, oblivious miscreants, and Tim Duncan (“not a basketball Tim Duncan”) is no exception. He blithely waves off his theme park’s fatalities as “rider malfunction,” insists that 15 deaths or injuries a month is “the normal amount,” and grudgingly institutes safety instructions issued in whispers because “we thought it would be fun to play a telephone game.” He wants to give away tickets to his exciting park, not waste time talking about “the accidents and the poisonings and the rapists”—wait, rapists?—“Well, we don’t have to get into that.”

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Like Scheer’s interview, Don’t Just Tell Me, Show Me is strong enough on its own, but it has to stand on its own; there’s no attempt to integrate it into the show around it. From the moment Scott cuts off Will’s relationship troubles (“Jill told me she had to have extracurricular relationships with women or she’d get bored—”), instructing him to “keep thinking gazebo,” it’s clear where this segment is leading, but Dr. Sutter (Rick Overton!) turning Scott’s “Don’t just tell me, show me!” tactic against him is a nice payoff.

Baron Vaughn as RobotCop (IFC)

Even before the big reveal, there’s a modest twist to the RobotCop story. He seems to have it in for Mitch (Mike Mitchell), shooting him in the knee for almost walking off with a pen (“The show of force was totally disproportionate to the crime!,” Kid Cudi exclaims) and repeatedly drawing a bead on him. But in the final showdown with The Ham Robberer, after taking aim on Mitch, RobotCop shifts target at the last moment and shoots (and shoots, and shoots, and shoots) Eric The P.A.

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Even for the lax, nonsensical world of Comedy Bang! Bang!, the reveal that Zeke’s been human the whole time doesn’t make a lick of sense, though Baron Vaughn plays the two personas with command and clarity. He masquerades as a soulless automaton to get his old job back, but he also pretends to have malfunctions brought on by the human remnant’s memories interfering with his cold, calculating robot abilities? Also, robots don’t get paid, right? And, hey, he straight-up murdered Eric the P.A.

Cudi’s final exchange with Zeke is a distractingly well-delivery exchange:

“We saw you drink oil!”

“That was actually unrelated.”

Eric The P.A.’s remark about “carefully researched non-silly questions for Carly Rae Jepsen” is a hint at the heart of Comedy Bang! Bang! Its nature is to be silly, but also to be carefully crafted. This episode feels like silliness won out over craftsmanship.

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Throughout the episode, strong action, visuals, and quick-hit laughs almost obscure the weakness of the story. But Scott’s response when Zeke removes his costume—cobbled together from bits of his old computer, some silver spray paint, his daughter’s bicycle helmet, oh, and a RoboCop costume he found at an old party supply store—sums up the impact of RobotCop: “Eh, what?”

The flexible reality of the show lets it get away with handwaving explanations over and over, but this time, they don’t even bother to handwave it. There’s no explanation, no joke made about the gap between what Zeke’s trying to accomplish and what he actually does or about the brutality of his actions. (Admittedly, his distracting urge to masturbate does make more sense for a human. Even more sense, that is.) But as a central narrative for the episode, RobotCop is a well executed, deftly performed, underwritten set piece.

Stray observations

  • Scott’s on-screen credit: TaB Sodacan. This isn’t the first Comedy Bang! Bang! stab at TaB.
  • “My wife kind of passed away a year ago.” Kind of. Kind of.
  • Eric The P.A.’s resurrection should be no surprised; Terminator tech is an established part of Comedy Bang! Bang!’s world.
  • “We do have over 17 different churro stands.” “18?” “18!”
  • I thought Parks And Recreation owned gazebo-based humor, but Comedy Bang! Bang! proved me wrong. Gazoinksbo!
  • “I’m really, really proud of you. Free installation, though, right?”
  • We at Sullivan’s and The A.V. Club apologize for the delay getting this review published. Let’s hope this is one of Samurai Scream Theme Park’s alternate days, when there are no fatalities.

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