Scott Aukerman, Tom Lennon (IFC)

In celebration of the NBA reopening training camps for the season, it’s time for Scott to sink his annual three-point shot on camera… or for Comedy Bang! Bang!’s editors to make it look like he did. But they’re fed up! When the editors go on strike, led by Snippy “Cuts” McFee (Dave Ferguson) and Thelma Sabatino (Betsy Sodaro), Scott’s determined to carry on, filming the show in one long continuous take. (It’s actually a series of long takes, Rope-style, breaking at each cut to commercial.) “We do the show perfectly in one take anyway,” Scott yells at them, “so that’s what we’re going to do!” How messy can it get?

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Pretty messy, it turns out.

Scott Aukerman, Scott Aukerman’s sneeze (IFC)

The long, wobbly shot as the camera meanders off Scott and across the studio in search of Kid Cudi, a shelf falling down on set, Scott sneezing into the camera: These are just hints at how messy a one-take talk show can get. Actor, director, screenwriter, script doctor, and fictional monkey torturer Thomas Lennon’s indiscretions about his extramarital affair, his crude gestures to the camera (“and America, by proxy”), and his pillow-misplacing, potato chip-crumbling tomfoolery all spill out uncut and undisguised. But Lennon doesn’t mind; he’s more of an Oscar than a Felix, and he’s not afraid of a little mess.

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Even the staid Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber (Paul F. Tompkins) loosens up as he tells Scott, Tom Lennon, and Kid Cudi about the exciting new musical genre he’s discovered: rap. Not enough raps end with “Cheerio!” and Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber is here to correct that.

The editors’ strike eliminates the usual excursions into reality show parodies or movie trailers. Instead, the episode relies on performances in and around the studio. It’s balanced between structured gags, like Lennon’s script-doctor bit complete with stethoscope and tongue depressor, their dueling monologues as Antigone’s Tiresias, or the Jesus Christ Superstar rap, and jokes consisting of nothing but timing, like Lennon’s pause between mentioning “my real persona” and the follow up, “… Franz Kringlemaus.”

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Comedy Bang! Bang! has a gift for drawing out humor from fleeting, inconsequential exchanges, and so do tonight’s guests. Along with Scott Aukerman, they’re masters at making the most of tiny moments, from Lennon’s insistence that Scott stop touching him (and Scott’s continued light pats) to Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “My noises aren’t finished yet!” when Scott interrupts his wordless burbling.

The sense of immediacy that develops from that focus on in-studio performances ties in nicely with the urgency of the strike, which escalates when Scott strikes a bet with Betsy and Snippy: If he misses his basket, he’ll hire them back, but if he makes it, they’re fired. As Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber trills, “Ooh, stakes!”, script-fixer Lennon observes, “Perfect screenplay structure.”

And just like a blockbuster screenplay, in the end, the conflict is resolved as easily as Lennon diagnoses Scott’s script—and as easily as Scott sinks his shot. (Kudos to Scott Aukerman for making that look easy.) Scott welcomes the editors back as a necessary part of the Comedy Bang! Bang! team, and next week things will return to what passes for normal. No matter how contentious a dispute gets, there’s a fundamental sweetness in the show’s universe that helps soothe their differences.

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Built into the frequent fictional backstage conflicts is an acknowledgement of Comedy Bang! Bang!’s staff, the editors and prop masters and costumers and others who keep the show rolling along week after week. Comedy Bang! Bang! looks better than ever this season. Its colors are rich and strong, the lighting is thoughtfully gauged to suit the mood, effects are more ambitious, and the graphics are crisp and appropriate to whatever genre the show’s aping from moment to moment. The careful attention to detail so consistently supports the performances, it’s all but invisible.

Comedy Bang! Bang! is built on showbiz conceits—or, as Scott exclaims when he hires the editors back, “Comedy Bang! Bang! isn’t about one dumb gimmick every week. It’s about a different dumb gimmick every week.” That ever-changing framework keeps the show from getting as stale as the tropes it spoofs, and the gimmick of shooting in continuous takes is a big success. It showcase performances, it’s technically proficient, and it’s a strong central narrative that keeps the episode focused even when the camera’s veering around, trying to find its mark.

Stray observations

  • Scott’s onscreen credit: Shot Unbrokenman.
  • Scott’s basketball t-shirts read “… Look closer,” “If you can’t be famous, be infamous,” “You think you know who you are. You have NO IDEA,” and “The nation awaits…”
  • There’s a joke within a joke in the presentation of the basketball montage. Apparently, the editors continue working right up to the point where their strike announcement appears on camera, then stop. Or maybe that carefully edited sequence foreshadows their return at episode’s end, when they cut together the show we’re watching.
  • “Cut it out!” “That’s what I’m saying: Can you cut this part out where I’m going ‘Suck it! Suck it! Suck it! Suck it!’?”
  • Dame Sir Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber is introduced here simply as Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, and who am I to doubt his title?
  • Structure is great, but the real test of comedy is laughter, and I laughed myself silly during this episode. Thomas Lennon lines are already a staple of my household’s lexicon, and “Tom Lennon Wears Black Slacks And A Black Skinny Tie” is sure to add one or two. But nothing stuck as hard or fast as Paul F. Tompkins’ “My noises aren’t finished yet!”
  • I know we can count on one of you to transcribe Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rap addition to Jesus Christ Superstar in the comments. You’re doing the Lord’s work… Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber’s, that is.

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