This episode of Comedy Bang! Bang! is just as cute as a basket full of puppies! At least, it’s as cute as a basket that’s empty of puppies for most of the show. Or as cute as a series of blows to the groin. That works, too.
But the Chumleys that Uncle Deckard (Rhys Darby) entrusts to Scott aren’t just puppies: Lady, Jelly Belly, D-Money, and Brain-O are talking dogs, each with its own neatly defined personality trait. And we’ve all seen enough family-friendly movies to know that where stereotypically characterized talking animals go, trouble follows—this time, in the form of two bumbling thieves (Erinn Hayes of Childrens Hospital, Greg Jones), keen to snatch the Chumleys’ diamond-studded collars and doubtful that “TV hostettes” like Scott and Reggie are likely to stop them.
The puppies hightail it to the Craft Services table, clearing the couch for Steven Yeun (best known as The Walking Dead’s Glenn). Yeun has appeared on the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast, but he has more presence here, making the most of small gestures and facial expressions. Particularly effective is his regret and dawning alarm as Scott stumbles onto the secret of Glenn’s death, and his own dismay confirms this exclusive scoop—or, as Scott likes to call it, “a ‘sclusy!” The little slurp as he enacts (and reenacts, and re-reenacts) the lick-lipping that foreshadows Glenn’s fate cracked me up every single time.
That’s not to suggest that he’s only funny in small moments. Yeun nimbly performs the sudden shifts in tone that Comedy Bang! Bang! loves. The big, broad, predictable run of his Walking Dead title gags (“Why are they making a show about print journalists?”), the somber reflection with which he undercuts that increasing self-confidence, and the constantly shifting mix of silliness and solemnity he displays during his zombie preparedness kit show-and-tell: through it all, Yeun deftly mirrors the quick changes of mood Scott and Reggie trade back and forth in every episode.
Comedy Bang! Bang!’s music and sound departments deserve credit for their consistently excellent work, filling up each episode with lavish musical cues and sound effects, but still knowing when to let silence speak for itself. Scoring the last item of the zombie preparedness kit (photos of loved ones to encourage survivors’ flagging spirits) with soft strings evokes all the sorrow of a Ken Burns documentary. A sprightly leitmotif accompanies the Chumleys’ antics, liberally accented with boings and sad trombones and “bare-assed fart” noises.
And then there’s ska. It’s got to be ska. It’s got to be ska, ska, ska. Matt Besser fronting The Vandals comes out of nowhere, just like those soccer balls that keep catching Reggie in the ‘nards. (Don’t fret too much over the impossibility of that last groin shot appearing in the montage. Time travel is canon in the Comedy Bang! Bang! universe.) Even Victor Ramos (Horatio Sanz) gets in on the sound effects, humoring Scott by transforming the splllllllllt of his imaginary massage oil to a “less disgusting” whistle.
Sanz’s improv is as slippery and free-flowing as that massage oil, and, like an unsolicited foot- or shoulder-rub from a pregnancy fetishist, it’s not to everyone’s taste. In the podcast, unstructured escalation can feel giddily free, but jammed into a 22-minute running time—and directed almost entirely to Scott—it’s more of a distraction than a diversion. (Even so, that disconnection between Sanz and Yeun does pay off in one of the episode’s biggest laughs when Yeun caps the list of sex toys provided by Rubbers For Mothers with a quietly satisfied “I’ve heard of all of those.”)
Uncle Deckard’s actions set the plot of this episode in motion, but he appears for only a scant two minutes. (I guess the museum did give him a very specific window.) For those of you yearning for more Rhys Darby, here it is:
If there’s a moral to this episode, it’s that nothing is what it seems. The basket full of puppies is unexpectedly empty. Those puppies are an enchanted gang of hobos. Their sparkly collars bear a fortune in diamonds. The “so-called groomers” are nefarious diamond thieves. The survival-kit machete is a prop from Romancing The Stone. The social outreach program is a front for a creepy perv. The decades-spanning documentary creating a universal portrait of the human experience is a ska video. The horror franchise is about existential dread.
And just when you think you’ve taken the last soccer ball to the ‘nards, one more is coming your way. None of this would surprise Brain-O, the 9/11 Truther puppy. It shouldn’t surprise us, either.
- Scott’s screen name: Was there any other possibility? Dead Walkerman.
- Victor Ramos thinks the movie is called Scream, but we know it’s pronounced “[scream].”
- Reggie hasn’t changed a bit since he was 15. Not his height, not his hair, not his inability to anticipate a blow to the groin.
- Oh, Comedy Bang! Bang! titles, you do stymie the stickler. Ampersand or “and,” we never know what we’re getting.
- Speaking of sticklers, the Chumleys are golden retrievers, right? Dog people, what do you say? And by “dog people,” I don’t necessarily mean people magically compelled to take the form of dogs, but that does seem like the ultimate expert opinion.