By Joe Reinhard, For the Daily
Published October 22, 2013
Sketch-comedy shows can sometimes disappoint if too many sketches fall flat, even when there are moments of comedy gold mixed in. IFC’s “The Birthday Boys” barely manages to avoid this common undoing, and while some sketches were much better than others, the premiere remains consistent enough to deliver 30 minutes of solid comedy.
The Birthday Boys
Fridays at 10:30 p.m.
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Part of this consistency comes from the show’s ingenuity: Each sketch features a major twist on expectations, so that even if one doesn’t appreciate the humor, there’s still plenty to appreciate in the creativity and wit. One sketch presents itself as a documentary about a bunch of tech geeks who work on the first computer in their garage, but in reality the men are much more proud of their garage renovations (such as their invention of the keyboard, a board where they could hang their keys) than their technological breakthroughs. In general, the premise behind each sketch proves enjoyable, and even when a sketch lacks in execution, some comedic genius does manage to show through.
Indeed, the show boasts considerable talent with executive producers Bob Odenkirk (“Breaking Bad”) and Ben Stiller (“The Ben Stiller Show”) on board. Odenkirk lends his talent more directly and actually plays major roles in many of the sketches, but whether or not he’ll continue to contribute to this extent remains to be seen. Meanwhile, The Birthday Boys, a comedy sketch group made up of Jefferson Dutton, Dave Ferguson, Tim Kalpakis, Michael Hanford, Chris VanArtsdalen, Matt Kowalick and Mike Mitchell, never really stand out from one another. Seeing how they aren’t named individually in the opening title sequence and are simply credited as “The Birthday Boys,” this is probably purposeful, and if anything, the show benefits from their interchangeability, making it more of a group effort than a bunch of funny individuals trying to outdo one another.
Taking apparent inspiration from “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” the show sets up a rather fluid structure, in that one never really knows when the sketches could end or start up again, or when a sketch might connect with another. This creates some pacing issues, but overall the premiere would have lost a lot of momentum if it had instead adopted a “Saturday Night Live” style of contained, finite sketches. The unpredictability keeps the show engaging even when the humor faltered.
Some sketches suffer from this structure, however, preventing real gems from rising to greatness. Whereas a few bits never amount to much in the first place, others start off funny but continue on needlessly. The aforementioned garage sketch grows tiresome once the clever premise stretches too far. Weaving the sketch in and out of the premiere kept up the lively pace, but it still can’t hide the gradual decline in quality. If the show wants to use a sketch throughout the show for the sake of its structure, first it needs to be sure that the material warrants repeated use.
Nonetheless, “The Birthday Boys” still delivers a satisfying premiere. The sketches hit more than they miss, though pure comedy gold proves to be a rarity. For now, the show still needs more discipline to deliver truly noteworthy material. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth watching though, and if the premiere’s any indication, one can be safely optimistic that the show will only get better from here.