Starring: Jefferson Dutton, David Ferguson, Mike Hanford, Tim Kalpakis, Matt Kowalick, Bob Odenkirk
Directed by: Jefferson Dutton, Chris VanArtdalen, Bob Odenkirk, Ben Stiller
Before movies and television, you have to start somewhere. For sketch comedy artists, that is in live action and usually improv comedy. That is where most SNL alum have started, whether it be at Second City in Chicago or Groundlings in Los Angeles. These goofy gents, otherwise known as The Birthday Boys, formed their group at the famed Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Los Angeles. They recently started collaborating with acclaimed actor/director/producer and all around awesome guy, Bob Odenkirk, who I will always see as Saul from Breaking Bad. The series, The Birthday Boys, is now on IFC, which also boasts two other sketch comedy shows of my liking, Portlandia and Comedy Bang Bang.
IFC’s slogan is “Always on, slightly off.” And they never disappoint. Although I think that Comedy Bang Bang is certainly the strangest of the channel’s programming, The Birthday Boys certainly stays in that strange arena. The show harkens back to the days of Kids in the Hall, where there are many random sketches, some of them are recurring during the episode, but there is no true through story line. So, it’s kind of like the middle of the road, where Portlandia gives us sketch comedy with characters that we grow to love from season to season, and Comedy Bang Bang is… well, a cross between a talk show and the weirdest thing I’ve seen.
Let’s start with the boys… the Birthday Boys. They are all talented in their own right, but some stand out more than others. I can’t help but fall in love with Mike Mitchell, the “big Boston-y guy with a beard,” who is like a delightful combo nation between Seth Rogan and Chevy Chase. He seems to be the resident song and dance man of the group even though he is a big bear of a man. My favorite sketch of his, and honestly my favorite sketch of the whole series is his “Woosh.” Woosh is an alien from Mars, who just looks like a guy in an astronaut suit with some antennae glued on the helmet. He goes to birthday parties and sings the same song, which is super hokey, and gets stuck in your head. In fact I can’t stop singing it now! “Hey you, you’re cool!”
Bob Odenkirk is good in the series as well. He serves as a nice frame for the boys. Never really overpowering them or taking away too much, but merely supplementing and adding his own great touch. Also in the Woosh episode, the Birthday Boys are going on a late night variety show, with a huge bill that gets announced at the beginning of the show that seems to go on forever. Odenkirk plays their manager. To me, it’s like the Ed Hardy wearing, LA and tanned, no combover version of Saul Goodman. He is a riot in this sketch, with more cheesy chauvinistic one line zingers than Charlie Sheen in Two and a Half Men.
But sadly, that’s about all that stands out to me. There are several sketches that are laugh out loud funny, but I can’t remember a lot of the series. Maybe it’s one of those shows like Monty Python, where it’s better the second and third watch around. It’s rather enjoyable, but I think that there’s more compelling programming on IFC right now. Maybe their second season will hit harder.
The video was great. IFC is doing a great job of keeping the quality of video up in all of their programming. Obviously, these guys are not going to get the budget of The Walking Dead with the most spectacular graphics in the world, but it kind of works for them, as they use it as an excuse to push the hokey envelope.
Really good audio as well. Everything sounds up to par. There is some bed music that is pretty darn funny. One of the best examples is the music behind the “Pretty Dad” sketch, where they parody the John Hughes movies of the 1980’s and have a boy stood up before the big school dance. His dad (my favorite Birthday Boy, Mitchell) dresses up like a girl to go with him… and everyone thinks his dad is hot in his ratchet drag. The music behind is like bad elevator music mixed with Simple Minds.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The cover art is nice. It’s the boys dressed up in their sketch comedy best, looking goofily into the camera. The logo is really nice as well, very clean. The artwork is nothing to write home about, but it’s nice, clean, and tells you exactly what you’re getting yourself into.
The bonus features are just as funny and befuddling as the show itself. There are several deleted/extended scenes, including a birthday greeting from Woosh and Odenkirk just riffing as the sleezy manager, on all of the names for all of the production companies he is going to create. It’s really funny. They also feature a “Making Of” Documentary, which is half actual footage, and half staged hilarity. These boys blur the lines between reality and fiction and the comfortable and uncomfortable. I wouldn’t expect anything less from them on the “Making Of” mini-doc. They also feature two staged segments with them in the writing room and the boys accepting their offer from IFC. I think that these were done as promos for IFC. By far my favorite is them in the writing room. At first, you really think it’s behind the scenes footage and then they start spitballing ideas, and the ideas are things like “screwball comedy,” “dry humor,” and “web content.” Obviously, not real ideas…
Finally, we see how the boys started, with their stage show. They feature the sketches that were on stage before they came to the screen. My favorite being the Coke sketch. In this world, only two people know the formula for Coke, and only two people only know the formula for Pepsi. And so like the President and Vice President, they cannot be in the same room at the same time, for if something were to happen to them, we would loose the formulas for Coke and Pepsi. The real riot is when the guys for Tab come in… and they are STRANGE… also, no one really cares about them, because no one really likes Tab… do they? The stage sketch was actually funnier than the television sketch to me.
Overall (Not an Average)
Generally funny, but not something I’ll be watching again. I will, however, be watching Season 2 to see if the boys get funnier. I hope that with one season under their belts that they will feel the freedom and zaniness to really top themselves and be the kooky kids I know that they can be.