Dream sequences often play on the familiar, skewing mundane settings and gestures just enough to render them unfamiliar, creating uncanny distance from that blend of ordinary and outlandish. Maybe it was just a matter of time before Comedy Bang! Bang!, which tilts and twists the banal pleasantries of talk show tropes into affectionate satire, turned its attention to an episode consisting almost entirely of dream sequences.

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Scott, Reggie, and the whole CB!B! team have been hard at work (“for seven hours!” Sir Couchley complains) to produce the best episode ever for Zach Galifianakis’ return, and they are plumb tuckered out. After a dinner break of Thanksgiving turkey with extra tryptophan, each of them drifts off in turn, and their dreams (or nightmares) tap into their secret fears or desires, or just frolic around in their unconscious.

Scott’s first dream is a perfect balance of eerie and ordinary: He rests his eyes (“A fella could get used to this!”) and opens them to find himself sitting on the windswept set, alone except for a hooded figure scampering through behind him. The overexposed lighting and echoing sound design indicate a dream state, and the black motorcycle jacket and green ascot filled me with vague expectation that paid off when Scott donned the rest of the costume of the CB!B! mascot.

Surely, some sharp-eyed viewers knew what those clothes signified even before Scott put on the chattering-teeth headdress, and before a hole appeared in the studio floor, dropping Scott into his own show’s credit sequence. For the rest of us, the familiarity of the costume was a beautifully uncanny touch, using an often-seen detail to upend the comfort of the show’s opening. In the tradition of TV dream sequences, it was bizarre, even tinged with dread, and charged with a potent feeling of inevitability.

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It’s not just familiar objects that fill a dream sequence with that odd, almost totemic potency. A whole bag of tricks gives TV dreams their peculiar flavor, and “Zach Galifiniakis Wears Grey Corduroys And Brown Leather Shoes” pulls them all out, one by one. While Scott’s first dream is searingly overlit, Sir Couchley’s nightmare damps down the usually bright tones of the CB!B! set to create a slightly grayer, dimmer world. As the nightmare creeps in darker and darker, Scott (in a costume that is not identified as Freddy Krueger) is backlit in red in portent of the anguish awaiting Sir Couchley: one-time couch-jumper Tom Cruise, one-time couch-arsonist Bobcat Goldthwait, and the callipygian trio of Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lopez, and Nicki Minaj.

Scott Aukerman as a nightmarish but non-proprietary character (IFC)

Zach’s dream sequence is even more blatant, taking him out of the studio into a soft-focus farmland of cornstalks and baseball. By contrast, as he wanders the studio—convinced that he’s still dreaming, yanking on boom mics and tossing cushions left and right—the scene uses customary CB!B! lighting and framing, indicating clearly that, no matter what Zach insists, we’re in waking reality. The visual language of the episode is commendably clear, and by turns comic and ominous. When Scott approaches Reggie—to flip his switch, so he can stop speaking like The Man From Another Place—Reggie’s manic grin and sudden stillness both employ the flourishes of conventional dream sequences and caricature them.

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Scott’s dancing return to the sofa isn’t even a joke. It’s just a Twin Peaks allusion, and not a particularly clever or well-crafted one… and I laughed every time I saw it. (I watched this episode intently straight through, then again to note quotes in detail, then once more just for the pleasure of it.) On most shows, references in place of jokes are lazy writing; on Comedy Bang! Bang!, whose every aspect is a cheery retread of common conventions, the laziness is part of the joke.

Zach’s segments are threaded together with a truly weird racial undercurrent. Slapping Scott, he spouts “Nazi! Honkey! Cracker! Sanford! And son!” Returning from a commercial break, Zach asks Scott “And how long were you in the Klan for?” Scott’s response: “About ten years, maximum.” His Field Of Dreams-sequence trash talk includes the epithet “you yard monkey.” (I’m not suggesting it’s an intentional slur in this scene; some people—including Ramona author Beverly Cleary—use it to describe noisy children, but it shares its construction and history with similar racist phrases, and it adds to the self-consciously racial subtext here.) It’s an odd tangent that doesn’t connect to anything else in the episode, and that feels uncomfortably like real dream logic: nonsensical, jarring, and disconnected from the whole, but hinting at something ugly looming just below the surface.

Deer Head’s dream could have turned ugly, but instead it was quite sweet. Seeing the stuffed and mounted head regain his body and gambol around the wilderness, feasting and running and singing in joy, it was hard to imagine an ending that wouldn’t feel anticlimactic at best and grisly at worst. But the CB!B! writers know how to get schmaltzy, and exactly when: Even in his happiest dreams, Deer Head’s favorite place in the whole wide world is on the studio wall.

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Reggie’s dream starts in simplistic idealism and descends into confusion and warmongering, as he and the fellows from Tears For Fears croon about ridding the world of bombs, then about the need to use just one bomb to destroy the rest, then about the general necessity for bombs. I love everything about this ersatz ’80s music video, from its earnest catchiness to the half-assed Spitting Image homage to its conclusion that “Bombs are the best!”

However deftly orchestrated, at first it seems that these dreams are just playing on a TV convention without any coherent tie to CB!B!’s pet subject of late-night entertainment. But nope! That shadowy figure lurking throughout the episode is the Sandman, who begrudges television’s power to keep people awake when they should be succumbing to slumber. “But that ends tonight!” he declares, drawing Scott into a nightmare where he’s silenced forever… or until his phone alarm goes off seconds later. Brent Spiner’s scuttling, silent presence is impish and just a touch sinister, and once unmasked, he’s a delicious slice of ham, whether he’s taking Scott’s knuckle sandwich with a smirk, sulking “my pouchie!” as Scott knocks the sleep dust from his hands, or crying out “My one true enemy! The marimba ring tone!”

This episode might be divisive, and I can only say: It worked for me. The nimble wit of Comedy Bang! Bang! manages both to lampoon the conventions of the dream sequence and to execute them with amusing and occasionally unnerving deftness, and it weaves the many cast members’ dreams into a fanciful whole without ever drifting away from its humor.

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Stray observations:

  • Scott’s onscreen credit: [illegible]
  • Zach grew back that arm, so, good for him. [Update: Thanks to the commenters who reminded me that a) “Zach Galifianakis Wears A One-Armed Jacket” occurs far in the future, well after “Zach Galifianakis Wears Grey Corduroys And Brown Leather Shoes,” and b) despite the one-armed jacket, Zach hadn’t lost his arm after all. Good catches, both!]
  • According to Scott’s dream sequence credit sequence, in addition to Zach Galifianakis, tonight’s guests are A Fish Wanders Downhill Quietly and Mining Town Restarts In Sequence; the nightly news headline reads “Slingshot pudding on purple boardwalk: A fine crayon dancing for fish sticks.”
  • “We might need more bombs/This is harder than we thought.”
  • I love that Jenny dreams of sitting on Sir Couchley, and that Sir Couchley hates being sat upon.
  • S*C*O*T*T* A*U*K*E*R*M*A*N’s end credit alludes to the M*A*S*H episode “Dreams,” a similar tour of cast members’ dreams.
  • “Exit Sandman.”

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