Every week, Comedy Bang! Bang! is consistently funny, playing like some sort of insane talk show. The show’s formula is very close to the podcast’s, with a main guest, a crazy character, and several diversions along the way. Yet with “Fred Armisen Wears Black Jeans and Glasses,” for the first time that I can remember on the show, the guest becomes an important aspect of the episode’s plot, rather than simply being a guest. It’s a subtle change for the show, but by making the guest integral to a plot that hardly matters anyway, Comedy Bang! Bang! tries something different, which results in a fantastic episode.
“Fred Armisen Wears Black Jeans and Glasses” sets up the rivalry between Scott Aukerman and Fred Armisen before either meet on the show. Aukerman’s dream has been to host the “TV At Night Show,” but the network’s first choice is the “broad and pandering” Armisen (as Aukerman puts it). So the TV executives—played by David Alan Grier, Mary Elizabeth Ellis and Aimee Mann—decide to have Armisen as the guest on Comedy Bang! Bang!. The person who shines the most will get the coveted gig.
This adds a level of anticipation and conflict that the show rarely has, with Aukerman immediately jumping on Armisen, saying he prefers Right Said Fred better and that on SNL he only had to work one night a week. Yet Armisen comes out swinging as well, insulting Aukerman for thinking that Portlandia is really Portand, IA and talking about his new charity Laptops for Lassie. Armisen keeps one-upping Aukerman, bringing up his upcoming projects (a book, a movie of the book, which will also feature the DuckTales characters for some reason), and performing a song that features every single chord. Armisen is a perfect guest, matching Aukerman’s bitterness with a quick wit to match.
This episode also provides laughs with a great Reggie Watts segment right in the middle of it. Reggie has a crush on a PA named Stephanie, but when he tries to talk to her, he spills coffee on her crotch and meets her douchey intern boyfriend Dougie. Reggie fantasizes about being Stephanie’s knight in shining armor, but the fantasy quickly becomes about watching Scott shovel piles and piles of horse crap, which he refers to as “the ultimate fantasy. ”
But the episode’s real highlight is the arrival of the character Robert DeBiro, an anti-drug spokesperson played by the always-amazing Adam Pally. He first maintains that kids should say no to drugs, but then makes an exception for weed, as long as kids aren’t using heavy machinery. This leads to all sorts of questions from Scott and Fred in a bit that feels hilariously improvised. By the end of it, they’re all attempting one long rhyme and DeBiro is trying to snort coke off of Scott’s phone. Considering that Pally’s most popular character on the podcast is Andy Samberg’s pot dealer named Bro, it’s not all that surprising DeBiro takes a turn down this road, but it’s still perfect.
The episode concludes with Armisen getting the job over Aukerman, an TV At Night’s current host Johnny Truckdaughter, played by Fred Willard, saying that Armisen will take over in 2044. Then there’s a brilliant cut to Aukerman doing his podcast in his garage, Maron-style, which makes sense since this episode has been all about the meeting of IFC’s comedic minds.
With just a few simple new ideas, “Fred Armisen Wears Black Jeans and Glasses” is the best episode of the season so far, and perhaps one of the best episodes of the series ever.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.