TV review: “The Birthday Boys” is hit or miss despite obvious talent

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From the October 17, 2013 edition

Many television fans are awaiting Bob Odenkirk’s upcoming “Breaking Bad” spinoff “Better Call Saul,” but if you need an Odenkirk fix, IFC’s new sketch comedy “The Birthday Boys” might be it. Might, because “The Birthday Boys,” despite some obvious talent on screen and in the writing room, is pretty hit or miss so far.

The series is executive produced by Odenkirk (and Ben Stiller) and stars seven sketch actors who made their names performing at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles. But Odenkirk — who was impressed with The Birthday Boys and decided to do a series with them — also appears in a number of sketches, basically making him a series regular.

The first two episodes give audiences a good feel for the absurdist-meets-deadpan humor and running gags or narratives that carry throughout each episode. But the episodes don’t present a great sketch comedy series, yet. There’s potential, but too often sketches fall flat, resulting in more amusing anecdotes than laugh-out-loud jokes.

One of the more common structures among the sketches is to take a well-known commodity and turn it on its head. There’s a sketch about a group of computer geeks who created the next big computer/thing in their garage. Instead of talking about their technological genius, they fondly reminisce about the garage.

The most interesting stuff comes at the end of each episode; a pair of meta-comedy sketches that poke fun at both lazy comedy writing and “The Birthday Boys” themselves. That the funniest sketch in the pilot is about how everything else that came before was utter crap — that Odenkirk forced the Boys to do — isn’t ideal. Sure those previous sketches weren’t terrible, but they weren’t consistently funny either.

There could be something better for “The Birthday Boys” down the road. These guys are talented, and it’s no surprise Odenkirk is pretty damn hilarious throughout, but the series just needs to be funnier. I appreciate “The Birthday Boys” more than I laugh at it.