It has become readily apparent that the problem with this season of NTSF is one that’s inherent to the quarter-hour series: keeping its main cast together due to low contract commitment. This show has so many talented people who can and should get cast in other, bigger projects all the time, which cuts down on the number of episodes the series can do with a full cast. But “Trading Face,” co-written by Martin Starr and fellow actor Matt Bush, has none of those problems. It’s the best episode of the season so far, just a shade better than “Burn After Killing” and “Comic Con-Air.” It gives every cast member something to do in the main plot inspired by Face-Off, the B-plot about Piper’s failed game nights, or a one-off scene, and has the best assembled array of guest stars in any episode so far this year.
To start, a Face-Off riff where Sam doesn’t want to switch back with Trent due to his newfound power is fantastic, especially when it gets tied in to punning ability, linking back to the original CSI: Miami-type procedurals that formed the other half of NTSF’s inspiration. Better still, the B-plot springs right out of this “technology,” as Piper fakes switching faces with her coworkers to discover why nobody wants to attend her Settlers Of Catan game night.
Martin Starr gets to have a ton of fun playing Trent’s tough guy persona, and while Paul Scheer basically played Sam as Andre from The League and that wasn’t as revelatory or hilarious, it came in handy later in the episode. As Trent, Sam goes to his own apartment, worried that Skinny Pete and Bubbles—okay, Charles Baker and Andre Royo, but come on—will still try to mug him. But since his new visage projects dangerous confidence, they give him their wallets instead and run away. It’s a great use of the guest stars, and that would’ve been fine, but when Trent-as-Sam walks up, they harass him because he’s the weakling they normally prey on, and even continue to mock him even after Trent mercilessly beats them down.
But wait, more guest stars! Kristen Schaal and Jack McBrayer reuniting on NTSF as Trent’s fearful neighbors? Hell yes. Sam-as-Trent shows up, and they both freak out, trying to hide the knives and accusing him of torturing people in their garage. But Sam diffuses the situation in docile fashion, with a hackey sack. Trent-as-Sam has a run in with yet another guest star—the incomparable D.C. Pierson—and exudes the natural action hero confidence and skill with puns that shocks Sam’s hippie friend. Look, this is all some pretty easy humor, but damn does it work like Novocain. I don’t even particularly like Face-Off, but this riff had me in stitches the entire time. Every guest actor or actress who shows up is recognizable for the first time in a while, in a part that both plays to his or her strengths and earns laughs, something I haven’t been able to say about many episodes so far this season.
And after repeatedly wishing June Diane Raphael was around more often with something better to do, she has her best part of the season, taking a cue from the face transplants to imitate everybody and hear just how much everyone hates her overly competitive attitude at game night. But instead of growing discouraged or despondent, she’s just sadly indignant, insisting that not following the rules would ruin the point of playing or that Settlers is a perfectly reasonable game, or that she’s chucking it out for a sensible game of Apples To Apples to encourage people to go.
“Trading Faces” has essentially everything I want in an episode of NTSF, and it’s the kind of 11-minute diversion that still gets laughs from the same jokes on repeat viewings. I was laughing right up to the ending—which didn’t just cut off randomly like most episodes this season—with the group continuing to trash Piper’s game night and the reveal that Sam will stop at nothing to have any face but his. This is the best that this show has to offer to any casual viewer of procedurals and action movies, which is exactly what NTSF excels in lampooning at its strongest moments.
All you needed to swap faces back in Kove’s day: staples, the face of a drifter, and gumption.
Too many choice quotes to collect them all, but I am partial to, “They’re like unicycles, except bears don’t ride them.”