“What kind of sick twist snatches up a strange kid off the street to read them boring stories of ironic hipster comedy?” Good question, officer, and here’s another: Where is the line between ironic hipster comedy and intentionally feeble Dad jokes? I’m not sure, and after this season premiere, I don’t think Comedy Bang! Bang! is, either.
It’s fitting that Ty Burrell is the guest for an episode so suffused with Dad jokes. As Phil Dunphy of Modern Family, he’s a contemporary exemplar of traditional sitcom Dadness: affable, easy-going, and spouting a string of insipid puns and wisecracks that make him laugh while everyone else rolls their eyes.
However you feel about Modern Family (for the record, I think it’s a well-crafted piece of comfortable mediocrity), Burrell has earned those Emmys with consistently excellent performances, and guest spots elsewhere let him show off other facets of his talent. But this appearance feels like pure Phil Dunphy, from the Ellen Page joke (“Last name humor!”) he makes seconds after sitting down, to the pun in which he gives aspiring actors “a shot,” to the long run of jokes about his terrible family vacation as he and Scott duel.
Comedy Bang! Bang! has always delivered understated (even intentionally trite) punchlines and diverged into narrative blind alleys, but tonight’s directionless wisecracks feel even more disconnected and inconsequential than usual. They don’t build or call back, just float off into the ether.
“Ty Burrell Wears A Chambray Shirt And Clear Frame Glasses” made me think hard about Comedy Bang! Bang!’s strengths and weaknesses. It plays around the edges of ironic detachment and anti-humor, and it would be easy for mistake its appearance of spontaneity for the thing itself. But I suspect it takes a tremendous amount of work and planning to make the show’s illusion of spontaneity work as well as it usually does.
Tonight’s episode didn’t work for me. Even filtering it through the Princess Bride-style framing device, which elides and edits the interview and in-studio antics (and maybe substitutes the kidnapper’s sense of humor for the show’s) didn’t make the assortment of one-off jokes more than a jumble of quips. It’s not thoughtful enough to be meta and it’s not funny enough to be amusing on its own merits.
The external segments—the bedtime story, the Dane Looker promotional clip, the aborted rehearsal of the fairy-tale sketch—are the episode’s strongest features. As in The Princess Bride, Creed Bratton’s storyteller plays with the reality of the show, skipping 100 pages of Burrell’s hill-climbing anecdote, inserting swordplay into a “boring” interview, and narrating events over the in-studio events. Bratton and Ed Oxenbould have great chemistry together, and they shift easily from naturalism to cheerful counterfeit (“Thanks for taking a break from the story to describe that commercial!”) and back again. It’s a charming, adroit conceit.
The police procedural starring Scott as eponymous detective Dane Looker (because he looks for missing people, and also he’s good-looking, and he’s Danish, and he eats a lot of Danishes) is equally well-drawn. Together, they should elevate the whole episode. But even the ending stroke of tying the two segments together didn’t redeem the flaccid humor of the in-studio bits.
Even Nick Kroll, CB!B! workhorse, didn’t save this episode for me. The return of Fabrice Fabrice, craft services coordinator, has its high points, most of them as he details his wardrobe choices: “What I‘ve done here is I’m wearing an Ugg boot because it’s expressing how I feel being here. Like, ugh, no, thank you!” But like most of the studio segments in tonight’s episode, it felt unformed and meandering.
Reggie’s cue for Fabrice’s extemporaneous poetry is omnidirectional, and that’s how the episode felt to me. It’s scattershot, sending feelers in every direction without completing or committing to any one course. It’s not an auspicious start to the fourth season, but we have 40 episodes—and a varied, exciting list of guests—to enjoy.
- Scott’s onscreen credit: Sky Walkerman.
- Scott concedes to Reggie on the beard conundrum: “I guess you’re right.” Reggie’s rejoinder: “I AM!”
- Just a few of Dane Looker’s catchphrases: “Looks can be deceiving.” “Look… what the cat dragged in.” “Look not lest ye be looked at.” “Hey! Look where you’re going!”
- Dane Looker’s crack team of equally aptly named experts: Emma Hacker, Alex Shooter, Gloria Medical-Examiner, and Dylan Black.
- “Was it a knight? Was it a warrior?” “No, those are bad guesses.”
- Appearing in the fairy-tale sketch: Eric the P.A., Emeril Lugosi, doorbell repairman, Mailman Manny, inventor Lloyd Fleen and his wife Barbara, propmaster Donna, A.J. Trellis from Ditch It Or Pitch It, and Smally Wallace/Duke Scorpio.
- #RIPElmo. #RIPpaulgiamatti.
- Welcome back for season four! LaToya Ferguson, David Kallison, and I will take turns reviewing Comedy Bang! Bang! again this season, and I’m thrilled to be kicking it off.