TV review: Not the funniest, but maybe the smartest

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From the July 11, 2013 edition

“Comedy Bang! Bang!” is one of the most auteur-driven comedy series on television. Other than “Louie,” no show wears its creator and star’s (Scott Aukerman) sensibilities on its shoulder with more aplomb. Not even Lena Dunham’s “Girls.”

Since “Comedy Bang! Bang!” is so purely Aukerman, it’s pretty f---ing weird. There are moments of guttural laughter — usually from musical cohort Reggie Watts — but it’s mostly occupied by strange diversions into Aukerman’s mind. What’s most intriguing is the way it deconstructs the talk show.

All the formula and pageantry you’ve come to know on Leno or Letterman is the butt of the joke. Celebrities go on those talk shows to promote whatever movie/TV show/album/rehab stint they have coming up, and it’s just about the phoniest crap on television. That’s saying a lot, but how often do you watch an entire episode of a network late night talk show?

Aukerman is no stranger to molesting the interview format, occasionally on his podcast or the entirety of “Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis.” That continues here with a catalog of guest stars of the comedy/actor ilk. The “interviews” are generally just Aukerman and the guest (Andy Samberg and Aziz Ansari in the first two episodes) riffing on whatever. It’s improv and it’s strange — and occasionally funny.

While the laughs may be hit or miss, watching how Aukerman is subverting the genre is utterly amazing. He takes the most familiar and trite aspects of late night — conversing with the band leader about meaningless gobbledygook, asking Samberg about “his process” — and pokes at them until bruised. It can even result in hilarity (again, Watts is the MVP of this show when it comes to laughs).

Aukerman incorporates some sketches into the mix as well because watching him, Reggie and a guest do odd, meta or uncomfortable humor for a half-hour would be overkill. These act as a nice breather and impart some of the best jokes.

“Comedy Bang! Bang!” is nowhere near the funniest show on TV, but it is one of the smartest. It’s probably better to appreciate the deftness than expect laughter, but that’s there too.