“The film is certainly impressive, but ‘impressive’ and ‘great’ (or even ‘good’) aren’t remotely the same thing.”
In an instance of A.V. Club synergy, my initial viewing of this week’s Comedy Bang! Bang!, “Jake Johnson Wears A Light Blue Button-Up Shirt And Brown Shoes,” reminded me of this quote from Mike D’Angelo’s review of the movie Victoria. Before anyone takes this as a criticism of this particular episode of Comedy Bang! Bang! (or Comedy Bang! Bang! as a whole) possibly being “impressive” but not “great” (or even “good”), hold on a moment. Just think about either of its musical episodes or its farewell to Reggie or its clip show episode. Comedy Bang! Bang! swings for the fences every single week, and honestly, regardless of the grade on any reviews for these episodes, it never quite loses that. Comedy Bang! Bang! is a show that is full of very intelligent stupidity, but it’s also a very impressive show. If it ever lose that impressiveness, then it’s simply no longer Comedy Bang! Bang!
Luckily, being Comedy Bang! Bang! means being both “great” (or even “good”) while also being “impressive.” Plenty of shows try to be high concept—thanks a lot, Lost—but there’s a difference between simply being high concept and actually being good. So an episode like “Jake Johnson Wears A Light Blue Button-Up Shirt And Brown Shoes” deserves to have a differentiation made when it comes to the easy hollow emptiness of being simply “impressive.”
Sometimes an episode of Comedy Bang! Bang! is just an absolute winner by default; it has a winning concept that is quite frankly awe-inspiring, and the humor part of it all comes second to that. “Jake Johnson Wears A Light Blue Button-Up Shirt And Brown Shoes” is one such episode. On the recent Bob Odenkirk/David Cross episode of the podcast, Scott mentioned how different this episode would be, despite being able to vaguely describe just about every episode of Comedy Bang! Bang! the TV series as such. But all of those other episodes were right-side-up, giving “Jake Johnson Wears A Light Blue Button-Up Shirt And Brown Shoes” an automatic win in the “different” category within the show itself.
“Jake Johnson Wears A Light Blue Button-Up Shirt And Brown Shoes” isn’t even a perfect episode of Comedy Bang! Bang!, but it is one with a legitimately high concept gimmick that absolutely commits to it and actually succeeds. Every so often, the gimmicks within the show either lose the thread or there’s a point of not everyone involved being completely committed or the show simply drops the plot end the episode. But “Jake Johnson Wears A Light Blue Button-Up Shirt And Brown Shoes” finds a way to use everything within its arsenal to serve the gimmick, with the only notable exception maybe being the out-of-studio bit (which is a success on its own, at the very least).
It also does so while being a Comedy Bang! Bang! episode with a little bit of in-show continuity, which is one of the episode’s early indicators that it’s going to be a pretty special. Haley Joel Osment continues his renaissance within the comedy world in his return as Slow Joey, and Maria Thayer’s Marissa the set medic (“from the Valentine’s Day episode”) also makes her triumphant return. The best part of it all—besides Maria Thayer’s presence on anyone’s television screen—is that it actually makes sense (sort of) for both of them to even be in the episode. The set most likely wouldn’t end up upside-down without a Slow Joey, and the “science’”talk doesn’t get uttered without a set medic.
They’re little things, but it’s really the little things that make “Jake Johnson Wears A Light Blue Button-Up Shirt And Brown Shoes” work from top to bottom or bottom to top. Just the initial visual of upside-down Scott is so very much on point: There’s the hair sticking up, there’s the gravity-induced popped collar, and there are the exaggeratedly lifted eyebrows. Kid Cudi’s microphone is floating in the air from the moment the upside-down set is revealed. Jake Johnson has to climb a ladder to get up to the set. And the episode’s soup expert segment is an easy bit once you know the gimmick of the episode, but it’s such a great use of the gimmick and subversion of the character guest archetype that is actually works in its brief time. In fact, it’s the rare character guest that has to be as short as it is for it to really work. The episode has such a specific attention to detail that, by my third viewing of it, I mostly spent my time wanting to know every thing about how was it done. How did this get made, Stoney Sharp?!?
And as a guest, Jake Johnson’s biggest asset is the fact that, even with his full commitment to the world of Comedy Bang! Bang! and its humor, he also very much addresses things like how terrible this entire topsy-turvy situation is. He’s deathly afraid of the situation from the moment he gets into it, and no matter how nonchalantly he answers the questions in his interview with Scott, that’s always there. While Cudi reacts to Scott’s telekinetic save with awe and a request to do it again, Jake storms off. Because why wouldn’t anyone storm off?
Outside of the gimmick itself, Don’t Look A Gift Horse In The Mouth is such a classic Comedy Bang! Bang! out-of-studio bit, with the fake game show suffering (within the context of the game) from Scott’s host (again) not making it clear how to actually win. The answer about how not to lose is right there, but as usual, Scotty Auks refuses to come up with an actual end game for the game show. Contestant Suzanna’s question about the actual objective is an early hit in the bit, while Tim Kalpakis’ Blake’s smooth criminal approach to the horse situation is funny even before he sees the light and the colt pulls a Mr. Ed. Then, Blind Willie cheating the suckers out of their horse pairs very nicely with the in-studio Scott getting confirmation from Jake Johnson that his new show actually looks pretty good.
Comparing that out-of-studio bit to the new and improved smart Scott also makes it all just come together. I think Comedy Bang! Bang! may be leaning a little to much into the dick jokes lately well, but the idea that the upside-down set moves all of the blood in Scott’s body from his nether regions to his brain is a good one. The show is at least aware that Scott is typically pretty dumb, after all. His use of “topsy-turvy” is the icing on the cake of his refined intelligent person voice and vocabulary that sounds like Joey Tribbiani using a thesaurus. From 10 per cent brain usage to 100 per cent to becoming a “Limitless Lucy” (without the use of smart pills), Scott’s penis blood-based intelligence really does turn everything “topsy-turvy.” His ultimate “return” to regular Scott has him using his child voice—he says “hurt” as “hoit”—but it also gives a context to the reason why he let Slow Joey do the remodel of Comedy Bang! Bang! in the first place. They’re best friends, right about Scott’s friendship with Jake Johnson. Down is up and up is down.
- Scott’s Onscreen Credit: It is an upside-down version of, well, Scott Aukerman. Also, he’s credited as “Colt Horsieman” in Don’t Look A Gift Horse In The Mouth.
- Besides just the set and the characters, so much of the episode is upside-down. Check out the the opening credits and even certain part of the end credits (and end bumpers). C+. Great ep.
- Mountaineering Kid Cudi is now officially my favorite Kid Cudi.
- “Gather ‘round, Comedy Bang! Bang! crew.” Scott’s opening lines in this episode are actually pretty “smart” Scotty, which makes me wonder if he was topsy-turvy prior to the episode beginning. Yes, topsy-turvy is going to become a euphemism.
- Eric: “But Slow Joey’s so dim, when he went to the casino, he put Pringles on the Blackjack table. Because he wanted to wager some chips.”
- Liar’s Brand must be worth billions of Monopoly dollars. Billions. “Liar’s Brand: Don’t believe the guarantee.”
- The Jake Johnson/JJ Abrams bit really snuck up on me, because I was already referring to Jake Johnson as “JJ” in my notes before that. Plus, the whole Star Wars Week thing really made it an appropriate episode.
- Scott: “Don’t you mean topsy-turvy?”
Marissa: “That’s exactly right.”
- Scott: “…let’s not all get topsy-turvy.”
Cudi: “Stop saying that!”
- Scott: “Oh, that soup went topsy-turvy.”
- Scott: “My goodness, it seems all of the cameras have gone topsy-turvy.”
- Scott: “How topsy-turvy of them.”
Jake Johnson: “You’ve said ‘topsy-turvy’ a lot, Scott.”
- Jake Johnson (re: soup expert): “Eh, she’s not learning from her mistakes.”
- Marissa (re: Scott): “Yeah, he’s dumb like Tweedle and Hung like William.”