This season, The Birthday Boys are off the training wheels provided by executive producer Bob Odenkirk and finally free to completely be themselves. As it turns out, “themselves” is even weirder than anyone could imagine. Because for all of The Birthday Boys’ wackiness, it’s also an absurdly dark show where peeping toms become reliable narrators and Weekend At Bernie’s-type scenarios shine a light on the participants’ mental instabilities. It’s really quite beautiful, actually.
Despite The Birthday Boys’ placement as a fall television show that ends in mid-December, “Season Finale” is an ode to the simplicity of the good old days of summer as youngster. Of course, this “simplicity” is that of the world in which most coming-of-age films from the 1980s took place (especially when the films themselves weren’t actually set in the ‘80s), the type of thing that doesn’t exist anymore, if it ever really existed at all. The episode is framed in the context of the 1986 film Stand By Me, with one of the stars of that film, Corey Feldman, in the narrator role for the episode. In Stand By Me, he played the eccentric and troubled Teddy Duchamp. Here in 2014, he plays the complete stranger who follows The Birthday Boys around everywhere. Let’s just call him Teddy Duchamp, for short. After all, he’s got the same glasses and clothing style here as he did as that character.
Because of his role as the narrator, Teddy Duchamp shows up throughout most the sketches, just watching in a terrifying state of glee, no matter what the occasion. He recounts all three months of summer, creating a memoir for boys he doesn’t even really know and who don’t know he’s watching them. He’s not always visible or even an active participant in all of their adventures, like the hunt for the Skeleton King or Tim’s musical breakdown, but he still refers to all of this as “the best summer of my life.”
As I previously mentioned, “Season Finale” mostly takes its cues from ‘80s movies, but The Birthday Boys is living in a world where the concept of time is flexible. Part of this is because the episode decides to also go to the 1990s for inspiration. It’s actually a lot of mix and match in this episode, with the ever-present ‘80s movie feel even when the “exact” movie reference itself is out of that decade. For example, the basketball sketch is classic Hoosiers or even original recipe Teen Wolf in its storytelling, but at the same time, the gimmick of a pet playing basketball is 100 percent that of the film Air Bud. The line “a hermit crab can’t play basketball” is even uttered, and that’s all the confirmation you need that this is a parody of the 1997 children’s film about child and animal abuse. Air Bud is a really dark children’s movie—much darker than the smashing and trashing of hermit crabs—but it’s also kind of dumb, and The Birthday Boys has no problem showing that.
Then there’s the bookworm sketch—thanks to throwaway comments from Mike and Jeff about Tim now being a bookworm—which I really cannot praise enough. The impromptu musical eventually turns into a parody of 1991’s Beauty And The Beast (the song “Little Town,” specifically), with Tim in the Belle role of the bookworm who won’t settle down (“When’s that guy’s dad going to marry him off?”, “When’s that guy going to conform like the rest of the town?”). To top it all off with how Disney it is—despite its roughness—a literal, anthropomorphic bookworm appears towards the end of the number. The best part of the bit is how committed it is to maintaining that roughness (even if it becomes more and more unbelievable when people join in), to the point where the string controlling the bookworm is completely visible. There’s no auto-tune, there’s no impressive animation; it’s just flat singing and try-hard dancing, and it’s magical. It kind of transcends the episode, actually.
And it all concludes with Tim deciding to stop reading his book of choice, Hey Brother: The Biography Of Hulk Hogan, once he realizes it’s about professional wrestling, four chapters in.
The weakest sketch of the episode, the Secret Garden sketch, is one that’s bookended by otherwise great moments. First, there’s Mitch’s declaration that he’ll take all the boys to the Secret Garden: “Right after I get my 48 hot wings!” It’s a quick atonal moment from the scene itself, completely off with the mellow vibe of the sketch and so out of nowhere that it’s hard not to laugh at the unexpected outburst. Then, there’s the last look of Teddy Duchamp watching every single second of the madness as the Slumbering Sparrow mauls Mitch offscreen in the Secret Garden. The perverted delight on his face as he watches this insanity unfold is enough to bump even the best of sketches in this episode.
On the other hand, there’s the brief moment of Everything Sweet With Wayne The Skeleton King, another bit that doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the episode (even with the introduction of the character in the first sketch). However, unlike the Secret Garden sketch, this one finds a way to work. Part of that is because it’s just a short moment instead of a fully-formed sketch, but the concept of The Skeleton King as a Carlos Santana and candy-loving bag of bones who has become a non-living legend is also just a great example of how the most ridiculous things could get hyped up as a child. Yes, the guys of The Birthday Boys are fully-grown men, but pretending they’re kids for only a second isn’t the biggest amount of suspension of disbelief one will ever have to do when it comes to this show. The hyped up ridiculous things are the focuses of movies like Stand By Me or The Goonies, and here, the idea that these things can be underwhelming is an adult approach to such a concept. What could possibly be underwhelming about a talking friendly skeleton who loves candy?
Plus, it helps that Wayne The Skeleton King has the voice of Taran Killam’s Michael Cera impression.
Earlier this season, The Birthday Boys tore apart the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia in the episode “Freshy’s,” with the Smurfs proxy, the Sworvels. Talking about this in the context of the whole idea of millennials idealizing the things of their youths and past, I’d argue that it’s not so much always an idealization as it is an acceptance and willingness to still like things from one’s youth, instead of simply disregarding them as “stupid” or things that one can’t enjoy in their adulthood. In “Freshy’s,” Mitch’s character is driven insane by his need for things to be like they used to instead of just accepting that what he loved and continues to love isn’t necessarily what others will love and continue to love. That’s where the act of nostalgia above all else is dangerous (in trying to force it on others) and that episode makes that clear.
Fastforward to now, with “Season Finale,” it’s obvious that this episode is a labor of love from The Birthday Boys based on nostalgia, but they’re also able to point out the glaring imperfections of these types of things. This is especially apparent in its reading of Weekend At Bernie’s (with Mitch as dead “Uncle Ernie”) as a true tale of insanity as Mike continues to role-plays the scenario as everyone around him chokes and dies.
To wrap all of this up—after a heartbreaking sketch about why you shouldn’t wear white pants after Labor Day—the episode ends with Teddy Duchamp’s voice-over about how all the boys eventually died in Vietnam except for Mike—“He fried in Vietnam.” As for Teddy Duchamp, “yep,” he died too, and he simply disappears. That’s the end of season two of The Birthday Boys, and that’s as fitting an end as there could probably be for this season of television.
It’s really a great time for sketch comedy on television right now; it’s become one of the most stylistically diverse genres on television, as it is allowed to bend to the needs of the particular sketch. Watching shows like The Birthday Boys, Kroll Show, Key & Peele, or even the lesser known Friends Of The People, there is a distinct creative style and voice to all of these shows, and it’s simply a pleasure to get to see all of this on a regular basis. The Birthday Boys, in particular, is a bizarre exploration into the norm in a way, with a sly wink to those who get it while it flies over the heads of those who don’t. Being a fan of The Birthday Boys feels a bit like being in a secret club, like being one of The Birthday Boys yourself—complete with sometimes getting lost in the shuffle simply because there’s just too darn many of you.
- My personal favorite episodes of this season are “Women Are Funny,” “Freshy’s,” and “Love Date.” What a great three episode streak.
- Also, I’ve watched every episode of this show, but unless it’s Tim or Mitch, I find myself asking one simple question when it comes to identifying the members of The Birthday Boys: “Is his name… Dave?”
- Wayne The Skeleton King: “What a nice group of guys. I wish I could call them my friends, but they don’t like me very much. Hmm.”
- The biggest mystery of the episode is how Mitch regains the ability to walk. After all, the Skeleton King doesn’t grant wishes. So was it the Secret Garden?
- Teddy Duchamp: “Yep. That’s me. Outside the house. Peeping in on the guys. Not saying anything. Creeping around. Just watching all summer. Like I did all summer. Yep. The complete stranger who followed those guys around everywhere. It was the best summer of my life.”
- Wayne The Skeleton King: “Yes, Santana and candy are always on my brain / They make me so happy, the Skeleton King named Wayne ”
- Tim: “Just gimme a book / Yeah, gimme a big ol’ paper-y book / ‘Cuz I’m a book guy”
- Hey, that’s Matt Besser as the incompetent basketball coach! Hey, Matt Besser!
- “Who Brought The Canines?” is a fake terrible song, and yet it’s so much better than “Who Let The Dogs Out?” will ever be. When is there going to be a Birthday Boys soundtrack?