Martin Starr’s tech-specialist character Sam has been the most underdeveloped member of NTSF so far, but “Sabbath-tage” attempts to rectify that oversight. From Freaks and Geeks to Party Down, Starr has proven to be a gifted comic actor with the right material. But without a script that caters to his abilities, he has the tendency to fade into the background. His presence still garners interest, but he just shows up, lets the audience know he’s there, and then disappears without anything particularly memorable (I’m looking at you, Model UN episode of Community).
The riddle terrorist ruining NTSF’s Saturday is of the amusingly annoying type that doesn’t let anyone think about the riddle or make a guess before revealing the answer. The mystery caller has a bomb wired to explode unless Sam solves some riddles and tracks down various items around town, leaving the rest of the NTSF team hapless in the office on the weekend with nothing to do.
“Sabbath-tage” does just about everything to keep Starr front and center the whole time, with a few really great sight gags. Sam walking around the Botanical Gardens flower sale wearing a giant sign that reads “DOWNTON ABBEY SUCKS” is some great topical zeitgeist skewering, as are the aggressive overreactions of the other women in the scene. Paul Scheer and his co-writers have proven incredibly adept at making clever commentary on whatever entertainment is popular at the time (see his involvement with Breaking GIFs), and Starr plays just the right kind of oblivious buffoon to make this work.
It’s clear from the moment the mysterious caller singles out Sam that it’s his ex-girlfriend—who he recently dumped via email—and when he has to steal an engagement ring we know that she’s setting him up for a wedding. But once Sam arrives at City Hall for the ceremony he hasn’t realized is a certainty, there are two surprises. First, Sam’s ex-girlfriend is Alison Brie, in a great guest-star payback role, who uses a voice modulator (an uncredited Will Arnett) to be “just like Frank Calidendo” and impersonate any voice, conspiring to have Sam bring something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue to the court house. The second surprise is that she hasn’t read Sam’s email breaking up with her. So he’s in a dilemma: take one for the team and marry this psychotic, clingy girl and save San Diego from a nuclear bomb, or be comically selfish. Kove has the best line about his decision: “The casualties are in the millions, but we contained the radiation, and La Jolla will rebuild.”
The side plots have their moments as well. Because the whole case takes place on a Saturday, Trent is only useful as a field agent, with his one-liners and frontline action prowess useless up against conference calls and computer technology. That technical incompetence is what makes characters like Sam necessary. Kove refuses to do any manual labor on the Sabbath because she’s practicing Kabbalah, which is a little dated, but still funny once Kerri Kenney shows up again as the office pre-cog, in mid-hookup with Alphonse.
Like fellow TV Clubber David Sims, who covers Childrens Hospital, I find it a little odd to pick apart a show like this that goes by so quickly and makes me smile and laugh for basically the entire run time, and give it a grade. As a long overdue Martin Starr-focused episode, this was great, but it wasn’t quite the action-packed ensemble piece that exemplifies the best of NTSF.
- I would watch a sitcom in which Martin Starr and Alison Brie played a couple constantly on the skids. They’re wonderful together.
- Adult Swim has jumbled the episode order quite a bit from the production order, so that NTSF:AK:CANOE episode is coming sometime later in the season.
- “Tonight’s episode of NTSF:SD:SUV:: is proud to be made in the Ukraine.”
- “What’s the big deal? When I dump someone I just send them a text with a thumbs-down emoji.”
- “You couldn’t be more clear if you were Katy Perry’s skin in a Proactiv commercial.”
- “You look like you slept on the floor at FedExKinkosOfficeMax.” “Those don’t exist.”