After several years of life as a successful podcast (initially named "Comedy Death Ray"), comedian Scott Aukerman's "Comedy Bang! Bang!" made the leap to television on IFC. Aukerman and bandleader Reggie Watts sit on an oddly sparse, distinctly kitschy living room set, make awkward banter, and interview a laundry list of celebrity guests on all sorts of subjects Aukerman has read about on the guests' Wikipedia pages. In between the breaks, Aukerman and Watts are often sidetracked by tangents of fantasy, delusion, and psychosis, as well as spoofing not just the talk show format, but any number of television conventions from prank shows to competition programming.
Look, it's not that often that DVDTalk ends up with not one, not two, but three copies of the same DVD for review, and my busy schedule (aggressive procrastination) has led me to be the last of the three site writers to tackle this DVD, "The Complete Second Season." Not only is "Comedy Bang! Bang!" eccentric and comedic, two goals that are really subjective, but my colleagues also seem to be both more familiar with the show, and they both wrote non-traditional reviews. My sincere hope is that you, dear reader, are like me, a newcomer to the world of "Comedy Bang! Bang!", and therefore I can be your traditional (boring) reviewer who assesses the program the old-fashioned way. If you're already a fan, you'd probably be better off reading one of the other two reviews, or maybe just skipping to the other sections of the review.
Before seeing the program, my impression of "Comedy Bang! Bang!" from promos and conversation was that it was a talk show, just with sketches and hosted by comedians. Actually, it's more the opposite: this is a sketch show built around a talk show spoof. Although everything starts on the same sound stage, the show frequently skips into other note-perfect parodies of television programs, including "Scottcha Gotcha!", an undercover investigation that finds Scott blowing the lid off of a neighborhood haunted house, or "Cop Swap", which finds Reggie trading places with a police officer (John Carroll Lynch) for a day. As with any good parody, it's not just the jokes that make each one of these, but the precision accuracy in the music, graphics, and editing style of each one. Highlights from this season include Scott playing the obnoxious host of a prank dating show that literally leaves nothing to chance, and an episode constantly interrupted by a spin-the-wheel game show airing simultaneously, from the same set.
At first, Aukerman and Watts (and I mean this in the nicest way possible) almost seem too square or stiff to be the leads of a comedy program, but after watching a few episodes, their lack of cool becomes part of the show's appeal. It may take a couple of episode to warm up to their vibe, but there's a fun contrast between the leads and their famous guest stars, not to mention it's funnier to watch these two weirdos go all-in on a given sketch. Of course, the guest stars are no slouches either, and not just folks who are familiar with sketch and improv like Bill Hader, but also Gillian Jacobs and Rainn Wilson (almost better here cutting loose than they are on their famous television shows), and even folks like Jessica Alba and Jason Schwartzman all really get into the groove of the show's bizarro humor. It's also really great to see Pee-Wee Herman guest star for the show's Halloween episode (the set's talking accessories, including Bookie and a deer head, seem like a pretty blatant nod to Pee-Wee's Playhouse, even if you haven't seen that photo of Aukerman at 15 dressed as Pee-Wee for Halloween).
On top of the advertised guest stars, "Comedy Bang! Bang!" offers up a laundry list of additional cameos and appearances from funny people playing roles in the show, generally members of Aukerman's staff, as well as a second guest star for each episode, like Emeril Lugosi (podcast regular Jason Mantzoukas), a vampire chef who is has been sick of vampire puns for at least 500 years, or cowboy poet Dalton Wilcox (Andy Daly), whose poetry is 75% about...well, I won't spoil it. Nick Kroll also comes on to do his character Fabrice Fabrice, set caterer (a character which has also been seen in his stand-up act, and probably on his own TV show). If Aukerman and Watts are funny on their own, and the celebrity guests boost the comedy by playing along, it's the second set of in-character guests that often bring an episode to its peak funniness, as the performers are allowed to go as extreme and bizarre as their hearts desire. During these sections, if the viewer can wipe the own tears of laughter from their eyes, they'll most constantly catch the guests stifling their laughter at the ridiculousness of it all -- something "Comedy Bang! Bang!" almost miraculously manages to bundle successfully into a cohesive package.
"Comedy Bang! Bang!": The Complete Second Season arrives with beautiful artwork of Aukerman as a centaur, cresting a mountaintop with Watts riding on his back, staff held high. Lightning is striking the top of the staff and the sky is a psychedelic space vista. It's rare that a piece of artwork so completely captures the subtleties of the feature presentation within, and yet this is an utterly faithful representation of every one of the season's 20 episodes. The four-disc set comes in a single-width DVD case with two flap trays for the four discs (no cover-side hubs), and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
Like many modern TV shows, "Comedy Bang! Bang!" has gotten a slightly short shrift when it comes to home video. The show is broadcast and available in HD on streaming platforms, but the only physical media available is standard-def DVD. That said, the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen video and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio are pretty decent. On really close inspection, aliasing and softness are present in the picture, as well as a few compression-based rings, and even at a distance, brief light banding can be spotted, but anyone not inspecting it with a microscope for the purposes of a DVD review (that's me) ought to be impressed by the clarity and especially the bright, eye-popping color palette of the program.
Admittedly, Dolby Digital 2.0 audio can seem like a disappointment given how many crazy fantasy tangents and musical moments are on tap for each episode, but there's almost a sense that Aukerman and Watts would prefer a limited stereo mix to capture the banality of their lack of a studio audience, and the simplistic nature of the shows they're spoofing. Furthermore, dialogue and music sound just fine on the track, taking nothing away from the comedy. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also provided.
Considering that decline in the quality of home video releases for TV programs, it's kind of amazing the amount of supplementary material that's been crammed onto this set -- the fourth disc is actually entirely devoted to bonus features (I think of something like "Childrens Hospital", with releases relegated to burn-on-demand DVDs, and this is practically obscene).
On the three discs of the show itself, audio commentary by Aukerman and a number of "special guests," graces every episode. I'm not a big podcast guy, so I admit I have never heard the original "Comedy Bang! Bang!", but I imagine these commentaries are fairly similar to what the experience is like. Information on the production of the show itself is not entirely absent, but of course, how much can one expect to learn with Garry Marshall around yelling?
Skipping ahead to Disc 4, the video extras kick in. First off is a massive, massive archive of deleted scenes and extended interviews (1:24:24) from all 20 episodes, with the exception of Pee-Wee Herman's episode. It's a wealth of bonus comedy that fans of the show will be thrilled to dig into, but the one unforgivable omission in this section is the lack of a "Play All" option, with each episode's extended bits broken up into its own little scenes. Hell, even a "Play All" for each individual episode would've been appreciated.
Following this, an extended Q&A talkback (43:46) from a Cinefamily screening of the Andrew Lloyd Weber episode with Scott Aukerman, Casey Wilson, Paul F. Tom -- er, Andrew Lloyd Weber, and Thomas Lennon is offered. This funny, slightly meandering chat has some questionable sound quality, but the experience of seeing Aukerman and his cast work some of their magic on a live audience is more than worth it.
On the internet, short videos of Reggie improvising a song with each episode's guest stars are uploaded to promote the episode in question. According to my colleague Francis Rizzo III, these were conspicuously absent from the "Complete First Season" DVD, but the entire archive of songs (49:31) of "Second Season" videos is included. Again, since each set of guest stars is presented individually (down to the numerous guest stars in each episode), the lack of a Play All option is kind of obnoxious, but the clips show off Watts' already impressive musical talents. This is supplemented by "Reggie's Season 2 Music Supercut" (18:10), a compilation of his many little tunes and intros he plays during the season.
"VFX Tests" (3:13) is a hilarious short clip reel of the show's visual effects team testing out the various bizarre visual effects the show requires, from talking ladders to floating in the void of a universe that has ceased to exist. "CBB Crew Dance Party" (3:50) gives us another peek at the people who make the show, limply busting a move on set between takes to riffs from Watts. Viewers can also "Meet the Crew" (1:23) in a short video hosted by Aukerman, which may or may not be entirely honest about who works behind the scenes. The exhaustive wealth of extra content closes out with "An Acting Class With Herb Roost" (3:41), a peek at a character seen in one of the episodes only briefly.
If there's one thing missing from this set, I really would've liked to see outtakes from each of the episodes, especially when the occasional sight of an actor breaking only briefly can be seen in the episodes themselves. Also, in the same spirit with which I would like to yell at whoever left off "Play All" options for the bonus features, I would like to do the same for the person who encoded the episodes with no chapter stops -- a chapter stop at the end of the opening credits of a show should be required by law. BY LAW.
"Comedy Bang! Bang!" is an acquired, awkward taste, but I have acquired it. Just when I thought Aukerman and Watts had located a peak of TV-infused delirium, they ascended to yet another level of hilarity. Despite a failure to author the discs' content in a logical way (no, I will not back down on this), the veritable treasure trove of extras offered here is also worthy of celebration. Highly recommended...but, if you've been reading DVDTalk, you probably knew that already.
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