Comedy Bang! Bang! is done. The long-running surrealist half-hour turns off its lights at last, in this, the series finale. Don’t worry, though, a new episode will air next week, as a few chyrons proclaim. In “Zach Galifianakis Wears a One-Armed Jacket,” Auckerman and a slew of recurring characters send up finale shows in an askew Bang! Bang! style. However, the episode often falls victim to its own target. Finale shows are often unsatisfying and boring, relying too heavily on unearned catharsis or pat nostalgia. In trying to lampoon these conventions, Comedy Bang! Bang! nails the impression too well.
Before Zach Galifianakis become his own one-man wolf pack, he starred in Scott Aukerman’s small web series titled Between Two Ferns With Zach Galifianakis, then just an ancillary sketch from a rejected pilot. Smash cut six years later to President Barack Obama talking healthcare with Galifianakis on that same web series and Aukerman hosting a TV show and running a podcast empire. Their long history together allows for a lot of room to play, and it is always fun to watch two people with syncopated timing bounce off each other.
In “Zach Galifianakis Wears a One-Armed Jacket,” the fake series finale, Galifianakis is the guest as he was the first guest in the first episode of season one, and that’s how this works. For once it feels like Bang! Bang! didn’t tweak the original target enough. The episode is stuffed with many send ups of conventional finales—the first guest coming back, recurring characters making brief appearances, “spontaneously” singing to the host, a random, huge life cycle event occurring—but only a few feel like an original take on the matter.
Aukerman starts the interview by cribbing Leno’s “What the hell were you thinking?” line regarding, evidently, Galifianakis’ vehicular manslaughter spree. It is an I-get-the-reference moment, but not one that produces a laugh. The bit heats up when Galifianakis and Aukerman start overlapping and interrupting each other, with Galifianakis adding in increasingly horrifying details about what he did, all with a laugh track in the background. The absurdity works in this case, but the parody doesn’t add anything to it. That bit segues into one where Galifianakis has invented the most popular condiment in the world. There isn’t much there; the premise is too weak to stand on fully.
The return of Aukerman’s parents is a return to form for “Zach Galifianakis Wears a One-Armed Jacket.” Throughout the episode, there are hints that the world is an apocalyptic hellscape, and the nonchalant comment about fighting off mutant bats is played with just enough knowingness to be weird and funny. Aukerman’s father also reveals he never watches the show, much to the host’s chagrin, and the list of other shows he does watch (Maron!) is fantastic.
Musician Jenny Lewis (last seen on television in 1996’s made-for-TV Talk To Me) does a fine job filling in for normal bandleader Reggie Watts, and she nails the best joke of the night, “This whole time you thought I was Jerry Lewis?” Paul F. Tompkins appears as Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber (an honorific promotion!) and finishes the episode by marrying the couch. Again, they left some jokes at the alter here, in lieu of having a big wedding scene (I appreciate the Jesse Pinkman homage at the end though).
There is a fake infomercial for the “restored edition” of the show, similar to those Benny Hill commercials which used to play all the time late at night. Again, the idea is funny, but the actual jokes are not. The episode ends with a fairly standard Dallas joke, and I would have been deeply disappointed if this was truly the last episode (though at least Aukerman doesn’t become a lumberjack). Luckily, it really was all just a dream and Comedy Bang! Bang! will be back next week. Perhaps some fresh blood will be good for the show.
A fake series finale concept isn’t particularly high-minded, but Bang! Bang! relies too heavily on trying to make fun of tropes instead of crafting their own take. Many of these sketches feel like post-midnight SNL sketches (the infomercial especially), not surrealist improv. If the show wants to go in a parodying direction, as its done effectively in the past, it should, but not at the sake of what makes Aukerman’s weird project so dementedly special. Bang! Bang! has found success in being stranger and more distorted than its predecessors, and this episode shows how important that core is.
- Scott’s Onscreen Credit: Scott Aukerman (they got it right!).
- “The bank of mom is always open.”
- “All hail the goose’s berry, the most delectable of candied fruit,” made me laugh even though it probably shouldn’t have.
- The public domain joke was a long walk to a missing punch line. Galifianakis’ creepy singing was great though.
- I hated the grocery list joke so much, I yelled a little.
- Galifianakis opening the snacks with both hands was a lightning-quick moment of hilarity.
- “Let the forgiving begin.”