It's been on our screens for two years now, but IFC's brilliantly demented talk show Comedy Bang! Bang! still feels like it's building steam as it debuts its third season tonight. Inspired by Scott Aukerman's cult podcast and featuring improv comedy-musician genius Reggie Watts as his bandleader, CBB can be a disorienting experience at first. It's the kind of show where half the unknowing viewers who stumble across it will immediately fall in love, and the other half might be scared away, never to see it again.
All of the first and half of the second season are on Netflix now, with more sure to follow in the future. The third season premiere, featuring Patton Oswalt and Vanessa Bayer, is on IFC tonight after Maron and shows that Comedy Bang! Bang! hasn't missed a step. If you want a great distillation of the show's weird vibe, tune in tonight, but then travel back to check out these gems from the previous seasons, just to see how much the show can do.
"Amy Poehler Wears a Black Jacket & Grey Pants"
Episode two functions as a far better pilot than the actual premiere, giving a sense of how every half-hour of Comedy Bang! Bang! builds up a surreal little world to operate within. The episode is dedicated to a crew member who died during filming, and we keep cutting to him in more and more life-threatening situations, but the actual circumstance of his demise is a great example of how creative this show gets when it breaks the fourth wall. Plus, Amy Poehler is the guest, and who doesn't love her?
"Weird Al Yankovic Wears a Hawaiian Shirt"
The first season of the show saw Aukerman and his writers slowly pushing the envelope in terms of big, high-concept episodes. Comedy Bang! Bang! has a familiar format: Scott talks to two guests, one a recognizable celebrity and one a comedian doing a wacky character. Scott and Reggie have some weird banter, there's a couple of pre-taped sketches, and maybe some meta material about making the show itself. Episode ten of the first season was a new level of absurd, especially the cooking segment with Bellini Pastafangu (David Cross), conducted entirely in green-screen. It's probably the most successful episode of the first season, and gave the show real energy to experiment for its second.
"Zoe Saldana Wears a Tan Blouse and Glasses"
The guests for the first season were largely comedy people who traveled within Aukerman's world, but with the second season, he started to expand outward, and the Saldana episode is a great example of how successful that move was. She's not someone you'd particularly associate with high-concept alt-comedy, but she's game for every bit and banters beautifully with Aukerman (the guest segments rely heavily on improv). This episode also features show favorite Paul F. Tompkins doing his impression of Garry Marshall, one of the highly specific and amazingly satisfying character bits he does so well.
"Gillian Jacobs Wears a Red Dress with Sail Boats"
One of the best grand-concept episodes revolves around a supposed murder mystery involving Jacobs and a vampire chef played by Jason Mantzoukas (he's a very serious chef who hates puns about his vampirism and recommends you cook burgers thoroughly). Chris Hardwick interrupts to promote the fictional Comedy Talk! Talk! airing immediately afterward. It's an ingenious spoof of every TV "event" episode ever annoyingly promoted by a network.
"Casey Wilson Wears a White Lace Dress and a Black Blazer"
Comedy Bang! Bang! can sometimes feel very stagebound, with so much of the action taking place on its talk show set, but in this episode it shows off just how much it could do with that set. An elaborate parody/homage to The Phantom of the Opera, it sees Tompkins inhabiting his lordly take on Andrew Lloyd Webber (his version wears a cape) and Tom Lennon playing the Phantom of the Bang Bang set.