I grew up in Austin, Texas and I grew up an insomniac. Hours were wasted watching public access television on channel six, a marooned island of airwaves. It was weird and absurd and often disturbing on a visceral level. But I loved the honesty of it all, the dilapidated set, the raw ideas laid out for all to see—it was as fascinating as it was repulsive.
Comedy Bang! Bang! is the best public access show on television. Filled with space aliens and Craig Robinson and a “clone” of Reggie Watts, “Craig Robinson Wears A Bordeaux Button Down & Dark Jeans” offers a rare glimpse at clever see-what-sticks comedy, happening not in a small theater on the Lower East Side but rather on television with real production values, scripts, and stars. It’s a formula that works and this episode proves how well it does.
The cultural competency of Comedy Bang! Bang! separates it from other sketch shows. Where Saturday Night Live feels like it’s always playing catch up, Bang! Bang! feels fresh even when it’s parodying a show that went off the air last year. The zoom-in on deadpanning Craig Robinson got me to laugh every time, a perfect ribbing of The Office. The zoom-in joke, a wink and a nod at everything that made The Office predictable and great, was brilliant in its simplicity.
The somewhat elaborate plot of aliens kidnapping band leader Reggie Watts plays solid, if a bit flat. Bang! Bang! manages to sneak in a few sci-fi jokes (Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica chief among them) before mining humor out of Watt’s surprisingly tight delivery in a CG spaceship, with a nice song to cap it all off. The bits back on Earth were less funny: Robot sound effects playing each time Fake Reggie moved with a few one-liners sprinkled in felt too obvious. With a cloned Reggie the possibilities seemed endless—why play it safe just then? And yet the Bruce Vilanch joke was golden: just deep enough to make me feel smart, but accessible enough for a number of viewers to latch on.
Far less absurd than a cloned alien version of Reggie Watts is a parody of ubiquitous home-improvement shows, here called “It’s A Tear Down.” Again, making fun of HGTV reality shows is old hat in 2014, but Bang! Bang! manages to squeeze a pint of blood out of the stone. Aukerman hones in on just why those shows are so ingratiating: the scripted lines (“Man cave was more like a man’s grave” is repeated about 15 times to hilarious effect), the odd detritus in an older man’s “basement” (“We inherited a lot of birdseed”). The tag of not actually finishing the room, of just tearing it down (“Isn’t there another step?”), doesn’t land as hard as the rapid-fire jokes throughout the skit, but SNL could learn a thing or two about parodies from “It’s A Tear Down.” It’s funny without trying too hard.
The best bits of “Craig Robinson Wears A Bordeaux Button Down & Dark Jeans” didn’t involve Craig Robinson at all. Billed as Ofendorf & Sorbinstein, Bob Odenkirk and Tim Robinson play a reunited comedy team (Mr. Show is never mentioned, but hangs in the air like potpourri) who bicker (Odenkirk’s delivery of “I was never a fan of our comedy” is my favorite of the night) until it is revealed that one is a ghost. But, then, not that one. The other one. Why not? Again, it’s easy to look at Comedy Bang! Bang! as a Jackson Pollack of sketch comedy, just throwing absurd ideas onto the canvas (and it does that often and well), but there’s often a smarter element at work. “You’re saying ghosts are not able to be seen on television?” is both a funny premise and a commentary on Odenkirk’s work, a godfather of cult-favorite sketch comedy who, until his turn on Breaking Bad, remained largely unknown to mainstream audiences. It’s subtle, but it’s there, and it the made the skit that much richer.
A higher budget version of kids goofing around with a video camera, “Craig Robinson Wears A Bordeaux Button Down & Dark Jeans” delivers more than just bizarre, funny public-access television—it delivers bizarre, funny cable television. Comedy Bang! Bang! uses its freedom well and is on pace for a solid, smart season.
- Scott Aukerman billed as: Scarf Knitterman.
- “We had a strange burglary.”
- “I like kites… and hats, people’s hats being blown off their heads.”
- Odenkirk’s scream as the show cuts to commercial is a thing of beauty.
- Craig T. Nelson was the star of Coach, making Craig Robinson’s prize of a burned copy of the second season for winning Craig Robinson vs. Craig T. Nelson that much sweeter.
- “CBB After Dark” made me deeply uncomfortable, as it should.