(Scott Aukerman, Mary Holland, Krysten Ritter) (Screenshot: IFC)

Are you a Scott or a “Weird Al”? Yeah, this wasn’t a dichotomy in the Comedy Bang! Bang! universe until “Krysten Ritter Wears A Turtleneck And Black Boots” spelled it out. But tonight, Comedy Bang! Bang! asks: Who are you? Are you a rule-following dork, or a rule-flouting scamp? Are you the fearless fun-lover who texts a thousand close friends to come partay and worries about permission later? Or the nervous nelly who tries to soldier on with your talk show during a rager?

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So, are you the reveller who loves to partay or the straitlaced scaredy-cat who thinks every big bash will end with a clutter of Solo cups, barf everywhere, and a dog chowing down on a perfectly good baboon heart?

Do I even have to tell you which I am? I described this episode’s contrast between characters as “a dichotomy,” which is a pretty good tip-off. If you look over my reviews, even for a show as fluid and unfettered as Comedy Bang! Bang!, I focus heavily on narrative structure, recurring motifs, the cumulative effect of direction, editing, and how all the elements of sound, staging, and costuming combine to create a coherent whole.

But not tonight. Tonight, Zeke the security guard (Baron Vaughn in his recurring role) is on vacation and the rules go out the window. When “Weird Al”’s gathering escalates from party to rager, Scott tries to loosen up a little. And with the help of Comedy Bang! Bang! in its last stretch on IFC, I find myself loosening up, too. By all the formal standards of television writing, this is a middling episode: unfocused, disjointed, with a guest who spends her couch time cracking up instead of cracking wise. But no matter how goofy “Krysten Ritter Wears a Turtleneck and Black Boots“ gets, I just keep laughing along with Scott’s guest. Funny is funny, and it obeys no rules.

Having Krysten Ritter deep in conversation with some party guests when Scott tries to introduce her is a nice touch, as is her emphatic throwing-down of her half-empty drink as she takes the stage. It immediately establishes her as game, easy-going, and cool—but not too cool to be playful. She riffs with Scott and Al about everything from the word elided from her sit-com’s title to her dreams of slug-farming. But once toilet magnate Gail Summercat (Mary Holland) shows up, Ritter loses her poker face.

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Who can blame her for laughing? At first, Ritter is in there yes, anding with the best, accommodatingly following Gail Summercat’s instructions to take up more space in the business world by straightening her shoulders, or chiming in straight-faced, “I do, I physically try to make myself bigger all the time.” But by the time Holland is ranting about anuses, Ritter is lost. She tries to hide her laughter behind a curtain of black hair, trying to stop laughing before she plunges back into action. But Holland doesn’t let her. Instead of giving Ritter time to recover, Holland goes broader and harder, making more eye contact, drawing Ritter back into the conversation, and pushing her to laugh louder.

Like Holland, director Stoney Sharp makes a point of showcasing Ritter’s laughter, making sure the angles and editing emphasize that loss of composure. Spotlighting an actor who can’t stop laughing breaks the rules, and CB!B! loves to break rules. After all, this is a party, and a party is about letting it all hang out.

If Ritter breaks that hard over Holland’s pufferfish eyes and repetitions of “anus,” she’s lucky she doesn’t have to work face-to-face with Baron Vaughn. His arch, over-the-top pronunciation is always a joy, but his mannered command of his face and gestures add extra hilarity to everything he does. Please, someone, make a gif of the wobble he gives his mouth in his final wail of despair as Scott fumbles his replacement heart to the floor.

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“Krysten Ritter Wears A Turtleneck And Black Boots” crams in the party tropes, from a Sullivan’s ad for a cleaning crew whose guarantee (and entire business model) is framed around references to Project X to Mike the boom operator (Birthday Boy and CB!B! writer/regular Mike Hanford) reenacting the “I am a golden god!” scene from Almost Famous. The trailer for The Hallway From Hell (featuring Bajillion Dollar Properties’ Mandell Maughan) barely connects with the rest of the episode through Scott’s suggestion that the killer might be a professional cleaner, but it’s a smart, silly conceit that gets funnier as its drags out.

It’s a strange thing to say about an episode that ends with three men laughing as they prepare to cut out a dog’s heart, but there’s an essential sweetness to this universe. In this episode, it comes out in tiny touches like Zeke bidding goodbye to the hosts with “Okay, love you boys, take care!” or the most outspoken of Al’s suddenly ousted guests shouting out “Thank you!” in a cadence more often reserved for “Fuck you!“

Overall, this is a slight, silly episode, and a thoroughly enjoyable one. It doesn’t follow the rules, and it doesn’t savvily overturn them, either. It just meanders pleasantly along, cracking up and cracking wise. It’s Comedy Bang! Bang! even looser than usual, and it’s a lot of fun to just relax and see where it goes, even if where it goes is nowhere in particular. Zeke’s chain steakhouse epiphany applies here, too: No rules. Just right. You can relax and trust the B on CB!B!

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Stray observations

  • Scott’s on-screen credit: Mom’s Rockin’ Cans.
  • “Hey, we’re out of cups! Let’s drink beer out of these fancy vases!” “Hey, everyone, I brought my dog. He does this cool trick where he barfs everywhere.” “Hey, there’s a make-out couch! Give me your mouth.” Yup, that’s every rager I’ve ever been to.
  • Shout-out to the first guest, who bursts in with an armload of plastic cups to throw on the floor preemptively.
  • “Weird Al”’s turntable is playing a pizza, complete with exaggerated needle-scratch noise.
  • “They’re calling him… The Machete Killer. His weapon of choice: a machete.”
  • “Oh, you’re laughing really long,” Scott says apprehensively to Gail Summercat after suggesting she looks a little unhinged, and if he were sitting nearby watching me watch this episode, he’d say the same to me. The laughing part, not the unhinged part. Maybe.
  • I’m excited to see Baron Vaughn as the new Tom Servo, but his recent appearance on The Meltdown With Jonah And Kumail builds to a conclusion that’s one of the smartest, funniest, most cutting pieces of stand-up I’ve seen this year.

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