Michelle Monaghan is a Critics’ Choice and Golden Globe nominee, but she isn’t too good to get down and dirty with—in the words of Alan Thicke (Paul F. Tompkins)—“a cheap-shit low-rent affair like Comedy Bang! Bang!” She brings a great combination of elegance and gameness to “Michelle Monaghan Wears A Burnt Orange Dress And White Heels,” turning the tables on Scott by grilling him in true investigative-journalistic spirit, laughting at her own poop joke, and striding out of frame to rematch Dolph Piggler, the hog she bested in a state fair contest over 20 years ago, then returning, not a hair out of place, with a pile of pork products and digging in “while it’s fresh.”
Monaghan keeps up well enough with Comedy Bang! Bang!’s mercurial pace and voice, not intruding on the dynamic between established regulars but throwing in a few choice notes of her own. She rattles off that CB!B! patter (originally, the line was “‘CDs are a flat circle,’ referring to the popular digital music storage format”) and she’s adept at shifting tone. When Scott asks about Matthew McConaughey’s car commercials, she breathes out, “… I don’t know. Those are really weird.”
But a respected actor keeping up respectably well with the show’s antics isn’t the principal appeal for this episode. Monaghan’s the lead guest, but she spends most of the show on the sidelines, ably filling her role of bystander. (“That’s Cudi’s friend Eric,” she informs Alan Thicke as they both sit forgotten, watching a backstage drama unfold.) Her entrance, where she knows enough not to sit in Scott’s lap, is a nice metaphor for her performance. She knows what her place is in this absurdity, and when she’s not the focus of a bit, she stays on the bench, classing up the joint.
What else classes up a late-night talk show? A million dollars! Scott’s salsa royalties really added up over the years. No wonder Kid Cudi’s suspicious of Billy (Nick Swardson), who shows up claiming to be Scott’s long-lost brother and looking for handout after handout. Probably Swardson (Reno 911’s Terry Bernadino) can play something besides petulant schemers, but who cares? Not when he’s so, so much fun to watch like this, swanning around demanding cash, lobster quiche, cash for lobster quiche, and so on.
But even with Monaghan’s gameness and Billy’s escalating demands (delivered in Swardson’s oddly hostile drawl), “Michelle Monaghan Wears A Burnt Orange Dress And White Heels” lags until… the plot thickens. An appearance by Paul F. Tompkins always elevates an episode of Comedy Bang! Bang!, and this one needs elevating. His entrance as Alan Thicke (bringing his podcast impression to the TV show) picks up the pace and boosts this episode immeasurably.
Tompkins’ chuckling, winking, faintly lewd Alan Thicke is so uncannily accurate, it feels perfectly natural when he starts concocting theme songs. He starts with a cleverly rhymed paean to Monaghan’s acting abilities (she’s “real effective”), sings a tribute to Kid Cudi’s talent that devolves into a smiling slam at Comedy Bang! Bang!, then chokes out a single line of Scott’s theme, “Sweater Man.” The structured bit dissolves into mumbling and snorting laughter as Scott throws to commercial, and what could feel like a blown pay-off instead feels like camaraderie.
The whole episode is full of weird, charming chemistry and physical gags. Scott and Cudi open the show playing a desultory tug-of-war with a Slim Jim. Swardson brings his own peculiar shrugs and muggings to the part of Billy, endowing the character with huffy entitlement and an outsized presence, even though he’s offscreen for much of the episode. At Thicke’s entrance, Scott, Monaghan, and Tompkins bumble around finding their respective seats. (“Talk-show etiquette!”) That muddle is echoed over the closing credits when Kid Cudi escorts the guests out, crossing his arms and bobbing courteously. Concluding her interrogation, Monaghan draws Scott into an exaggerated, prolonged clasping of hands. (“Is this what journalists do?” he asks before wresting himself free.) Overcome with delight at the prospect of his own Alan Thicke theme song, Cudi leaps to his feet, holds out his microphone, and slaps the mic stand to the floor.
There’s an eerie precision to Tompkins’ Thicke impression, from his mellifluous voice to his matter-of-fact dropping of show-biz lingo (“Let me just hang tight here and cheat out to camera”), but as note-perfect as the impersonation is, the real magic of “Michelle Monaghan Wears A Burnt Orange Dress And White Heels” is in the interplay between Paul F. Tompkins and Scott Aukerman. These two have worked together for years, and it shows, even when they’re goofing around. Especially when they’re goofing around. For a distillation of their harmony, look no further than their simultaneous response when Michelle Monaghan says Kirk Cameron covered her walls—“With what?” they both chime in, before Tompkins’ Thicke croons, “We were both on the same page there.”
“Michelle Monaghan Wears A Burnt Orange Dress And White Heels” relies on relationships, and not just the actual relationship between Scott Aukerman and Paul F. Tompkins or the fictional one between Scott and Billy. Cudi spends the whole episode trying to keep Scott from getting scammed, but his protective feeling toward Scott is outstripped by his panicky concern for Eric The P.A. It’s a nice twist that Billy really was Scott’s brother all along—“Why would I make up being related to this dork?”—and that he ends up millions richer. And Scott’s reversal of fortune is tempered by the realization that he’s still rich in the best thing of all: co-workers.
- Scott’s on-screen name: Sag Aftraman.
- “The building blocks of life!” Kid Cudi yells when Billy brings up DNA, with the unbridled enthusiasm that makes him such a delight.
- Alan Thicke’s corrects Scott: “Different Strokes?” “Diff’rent Strokes.”
- The ending-credits nod to The Carol Burnett Show lay it on a little (ahem) thick, and I’m not sure why I like it so much.
- Alan Thicke: “I don’t understand a single thing that’s going on here. There was a spaceship?”