I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but it takes a lot to make a multi-camera family sitcom.* It also takes a lot to make a “talk show slash sketch-comedy hybrid.” Now if you’re doing both of those at the same time, then that’s sure to lead to some wacky, hijinks-filled scenarios. That’s the case for Scott Aukerman in “Jesse Tyler Ferguson Wears A Brown Checked Shirt And Stripey Socks,” an episode that actually feels like it’s a long time coming if not long past due. Comedy Bang! Bang! is far from the “typical” sitcom, but it’s so far removed from the stereotypical family sitcom that dominated the ‘80s and ‘90s that it’s amazing Comedy Bang! Bang! took this long to tackle the subject.
While Ty Burrell’s episode focused too much on dad jokes to get into Modern Family (and modern family sitcom) territory, “Jesse Tyler Ferguson Wears A Brown Checked Shirt And Stripey Socks” embraces it, using it as a springboard into the world of Scott Through The Heart, Scott’s “old” sitcom that he’s been cheating on with his “new” sitcom, Comedy Bang! Bang! It’s written simultaneously as an extramarital affair based on being in a rut and a disillusionment with the predictable routine of those laugh track-riddled sitcoms.
It’s also all an excuse to make hipsters and critics—Comedy Bang! Bang!’s viewership—hear the Tim Allen grunt from Home Improvement for the first time in maybe 15 years. After all, the aesthetic of the Scott Through The Heart opening credits is 100 percent that of Home Improvement, right down to said grunt from Aukerman family dog Milo. He’s got a TV wife named Barbara and a TV son named Kayden, and even includes the most cookie-cutter sitcom status—busy dad has to get his son the perfect birthday gift. All while making sure Scott’s sitcom family doesn’t learn about his sordid affair, er, other TV show.
Much like the Dirty Little Weasels bit, I’m a sucker for riffs on the classic family sitcom format. One of my favorite (if not the favorite) Saturday Night Live sketches from this season is Good Neighbor’s ‘80s sitcom sketch from the Chris Pratt episode. So while “Jesse Tyler Ferguson Wears A Brown Checked Shirt And Stripey Socks” is an episode that doesn’t have the out-of-studio segments that have come to be a ridiculous joy on Comedy Bang! Bang!, it luckily has such a strong framing device that it’s easy to forget about that. Comparing the episode to the still terrific Lizzy Caplan episode, the on-the-nose dialogue about the state of these types of sitcoms (kind of like the countdown in the former) doesn’t change the importance of the argument:
Scott: “Hey, can I ask you something? Are things around here getting a little stale?”
Barbara: “What do you mean?”
Scott: “Don’t you think that this might be an outdated institution that we’ve grown out of?”
Barbara: “What, our marriage?” [LAUGH TRACK]
Scott: “No. This sitcom.” [HUH? TRACK]
Barbara: “Scott, we made a legal commitment to each other. When we renegotiated our contracts for another three seasons.”
Scott: “Yeah, I know. It’s just… I maybe want something a little more different. You know, something more edgy or cable-y. You know what I mean?”
CBS has made a killing out of providing the world with “an outdated institution,” people have oodles of nostalgia for the world of TGIF even though the same shows in today’s climate would fit the bill of “a little stale” (can you really imagine Full House surviving eight seasons in this day and age?), and NBC wishes it had a time machine to make things go back to being less “edgy or cable-y.” With television’s evolution, sitcoms like Home Improvement or According To Jim or the Comedy Bang! Bang! universe series My Wife Is A Bitch are supposedly shows of another era (both literally and figuratively).
Then again, these sitcoms are also an easy target, so when Scott brings up the fact that he’s going to make a heck of a lot of money doing such a formulaic sitcom, it’s hard to blame him. It’s all the more perfect when the show is immediately replaced by a terrible reality show, but that’s a different subject for a different episode.
Modern Family, despite being a single-camera family sitcom, has been criticized for its by-the-numbers plotting (especially for a show that wins so many awards) and the way the whole family appears to hate each other, but when it first debuted, it was lauded for its freshness and originality** in the family sitcom genre—which again makes Jesse Tyler Ferguson the perfect guest in this type of Comedy Bang! Bang! episode.
Ferguson’s dry sense of humor in this episode is a lot more like a version from his work in the one-season, underrated and forgotten CBS sitcom The Class than it is in Modern Family. In The Class, his delivery was more about the undercurrent of sadness (or over-current, because boy was his character miserable in the beginning) for the character, whereas his Modern Family character’s sarcasm errs most often on the side of just plain mean. Jesse as a guest is a slapstick goof who has problems with tripping over his shoelaces and doesn’t appear to understand how to do things. Having him as a guest who doesn’t get that he’s exacerbating Scott’s problems with his other life is also a winning decision, as it would be so easy for him as a guest to just ignore the situation or question why things are so weird in Comedy Bang! Bang!’s world.
Jesse: “You know what it is—it’s like Mr. Rogers on acid, bu—”
Scott: “Jesse, you’re not helping.”
In this role, he brings a specific type of darkness and sadness that you weren’t going to get in the Ty Burrell episode, as well as a sharp wit that leads to great bits like the cast of Modern Family actually legally becoming family (among other things) and determining who should die first in the cast (from youngest to oldest, of course).
Then there’s the guest character. Seth Morris’ brand of comedy in most everything he’s in is delightfully weird. So sadly, there is nowhere near enough time spent on just how weird his cyborg rights activist/cyborg character, Nells Hebber (what a name), is. Based on the what the episode does give us, it feels like the character is more suited for the podcast and would be able to get to highly weird heights in no time. That doesn’t stop the character from dropping chestnuts like how he’s “totally colorblind” (kind of like Scott is when it comes to race), the number of cyborgs there are in the world (seven), or how various colors sound (which leads to him wearing clothes that sound good instead of look good). Still, it also highlights how little Reggie is given to do in this episode, as the biggest character moment he gets is to reveal himself as one of the seven cyborgs.
Don’t deprive us of Reggie, Comedy Bang! Bang! It’s too soon.
- Scott’s Onscreen Credit: Stale Raisinbran
- *It took me all that I have not to mention Too Many Cooks.
- **Speaking of Modern Family, this week’s episode—while divisive—is the most different and inventive episode it’s ever done. Perfect timing.
- Beth Dover is perfectly cast as actress Cheryl DuPont/”the old ball and chain” Barbara Aukerman. In fact, in that brief second of an establishing shot for the sitcom Aukerman household, my mind immediately went to “Please let his wife be Beth Dover.” In conclusion, Beth Dover is the best.
- Scott: “And hey, if this week’s show is anything like last week’s show—hahaha. You know, it’s probably not gonna be any good, because if you’ve seen last week’s show, you’ll totally see all the jokes coming. Sorry.”
- My particular favorite sitcom titles in the Scott Through The Heart world: Dan And Wife, There He Wendt (which, before I knew George Wendt was in the episode, made me hope George Wendt was in the episode), Karen Is Sharon, Single Black Gail, Kathleen On Me. It’s a toss-up between Single Black Gail and There He Wendt for the best.
- There was a period in my childhood when Wilson from Home Improvement actually scared me, because of the whole mystery of his face. I never told anybody that. Until now.
- George Wendt: Serial Cheater. I like it.
- Jesse (as Scott is going after them): “Scott, you have to go after them.”
- The original Kayden from Scott Through The Heart had a “religious meltdown.” Obviously my mind went to Angus T. Jones and Two And A Half Men, but it also made me start to think of Kirk Cameron and Growing Pains. Cameron didn’t leave Growing Pains, but his religion did lead to changes in his character and the show.