Thursday, October 24, 2013


Article first published as Happy BIRTHDAY BOYS! at

IFC's new sketch comedy series is The Birthday Boys. The titular troop is made up of seven guys, Jefferson Dutton, David Ferguson, Mike Hanford, Tim Kalpakis, Matt Kowalick, Mike Mitchell, and Chris VanArtsdalen, several of whom have worked on the network's Comedy Bang! Bang!, but none are familiar faces nor household names. With producer Bob Odenkirk (Breaking Bad), who also appears on screen, each half-hour episode presents several bits.

The Birthday Boys feels fresh. That's hard to do for a sketch comedy series. Saturday Night Live has been on so long that it often feels stale, and aside from an occasional, narrow-subject piece like Portlandia, most of the shows in this genre are short-lived and don't reach wide ranges of viewers. Yet, there's something here that is clever and original, at least in this week's pilot, entitled "Paychecks!"

The main recurring sketch in "Paychecks!" is a play on the origin of Apple computers and other tech, with a focus on building the garage they worked in over the technology itself. It's an unexpected spin that works very well, committed to in a much longer segment than I would have assumed it would earn, but never losing steam. Why do all computer geniuses of that era seem to work in a place normally reserved for parking cars? It's funny.

A second bit, which pops up a couple of times, involves a Christian take on pranks, frying eggs instead of smashing them on houses, and leaving flaming birthday candles on a delicious cake on a neighbor's doorstep. Perhaps this is a little mean against the religious, and admittedly such a group is an easy target, but the style, which is reminiscent of Jackass, is really cool.

A third scene, bizarre in nature, follows a remote controlled car that can take them to a fantasy land, but must use regular roads. The visuals of the toy on a highway admid actual vehicles is hilarious, making the sort-of-thin, Mr. Rogers-esque premise, more than it could be.

There's also a hostage stand-off that takes a typical situation, and skews it in a brilliant way.

That's why The Birthday Boys works, the same reason so much other comedy does: is taps into something familiar, and forces a new perspective. The formula is simple enough, but oh so hard to execute in a consistently pleasing manner. "Paychecks!" does so, and while it's far too early to see if the troupe has staying power, early signs are good. Plus, it's unpolished enough to be different than most of its peers, in a good way.

None of the players themselves particularly stand out in this episode. One assumes that will change as more and more episodes unfold. However, it's also not necessary, the concepts working on their own, without the need for star power to push them along. Yes, Odenkirk is famous enough, but he definitely takes a backseat to the seven guys, used in an effective way, but not in one that distracts from the material.

In short, I like The Birthday Boys, and you should show up to the party, too, Fridays at 10:30 p.m. ET on IFC.

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