Kiss That Thought Goodbye

About a month ago, IFC — not exactly a broadcast powerhouse, but the home of some appealingly quirky programming including David Cross’ sporadically brilliant The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret — announced that it would not be renewing Garfunkel and Oates for a second season.

This came as a shock to most Americans, none of whom were aware that the comedy music duo (not to be confused with a musical comedy duo) of Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci, also known as Garfunkel and Oates, even had a television show to begin with.  It didn’t set the ratings on fire, even by IFC’s standards, and the pair’s most devoted fans were probably confused enough by finding them outside the comfort zone of YouTube in the first place.  For those who both knew G&O’s work and were vaguely aware that they had been given a series, a glut of good comedy kept them from investigating until it was too late.  Lindhome and Micucci will return to the word of sitcom parts, movie cameos, sold-out Largo shows, and podcast appearances, which seems to be serving them well enough; but what have we lost by the demise of Garfunkel and Oates, the show?

Well, not a lot, really.  I’ve argued here before about how the possibility of binge viewing isn’t always a winner for new series, but it’s what we’re stuck with, and after an evening of taking in the entirety of Garfunkel and Oates, it’s hard to believe it would have really benefited from being parceled out a week at a time.  Much like the pair themselves, and the comedy music they produce, Garfunkel and Oates is always more what you’d call charming and quirky than actually funny.  No one is more aware of that, sadly, than Garfunkel and Oates themselves, and any review risks falling into the ‘women aren’t funny’ trap — a trap anticipated by Lindhome and Micucci in an episode where they’re stalked by a determined heckler who hates female comedians and follows them on the road trying to ruin even their most ill-attended sets.

Of course, it’s not at all that women aren’t funny.  Natasha Leggero, who is a recurring character as G&O’s decadent, sybaritic friend Vivan St. Charles, is definitely funny, as is Tig Notaro, appearing in a cameo as a distracted children’s television executive, and the always-appealing Busy Philipps as their smug wanna-be pregnant friend Janice.  Even Artemis Pebdani of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has a hilarious guest spot.  Women aside, the show absolutely inundates viewers with high-profile cameos from the alternative comedy world:  amongst the players brought in to bolster the show’s laugh meter are such friends of Lindhome and Micucci as Kumail Nanjiani, Mike Phirman, Steve Agee, Ike Barinholtz, Creed Bratton, Moshe Kasher, Andy Kindler, Nick Thune, Chris Parnell, Anthony Jeselnik, and Chris Hardwick.  There’s no shortage of talent on the show, the leads included.  The problem is that the show doesn’t know what to do with them.

Garfunkel and Oates has an identity crisis beyond being a band named after two maligned second bananas.  It has appealing leads, tons of talent, good songs, and plenty of jokes (though not always particularly good ones); it just doesn’t do much in the way of establishing what’s going on.  Plots are slapdash at best, which would be just fine if it was a rapid-fire, no-continuity-needed, joke-a-minute animated sitcom, but it’s a slow-paced live action show that seems to want to exist in some kind of ongoing narrative universe, but doesn’t know how.  Plots and subplots come and go, but are never really coherent.  Good ideas, including the terrific notion of portraying their agent (voiced by Rob Heubel) as a puppet, get abandoned before they really have a chance to take off.  And the show seems to want to get credit for having ideas without really doing anything with them.

It’s definitely unfair to compare Garfunkel and Oates to Flight of the Conchords, but the field of self-deprecating comedy folk music duo sitcoms is insufficiently vast to escape doing so.  Flight had going for it the fact that Bret and Jemaine had distinct and consistent comedic personalities, whereas G&O can’t decide if Kate is the smart but awkward sidekick or is actually developmentally disabled, and Riki doesn’t seem to have a character at all.  Flight also had a very distinctive look and made the pair’s New York look decidedly lived-in, while, G&O does nothing of the kind, existing in a context-free Los Angeles without a memorable shot to its name.  Finally, Flight‘s musical numbers were well-thought-out and visually appealing, while G&O‘s are bland, kluged-together affairs that look pretty similar to what the duo produced when they were still a YouTube phenomenon.  This may be a function of the fact that IFC’s budget is substantially punier than HBO’s, but it’s still hard to ignore.

Bret and Jemaine also had the courage to be fairly loathsome individuals from time to time, while Kate and Riki, while they sometimes dive into grossness, seem to want the audience to like them, or at least relate to them as the ones who see the bad behavior in everyone else.  This can lead to some morally confusing situations in the pair’s wordy musical numbers, particularly in the last episode, where a soaring emotional number celebrating gay marriage manages to come across as pretty pretentious and self-congratulatory, especially when you consider it was about two fictional puppets instead of actual gay people.  The pair aren’t especially gifted actresses, which isn’t a dealbreaker in comedy, but in lieu of any really well-defined plots or characters, lax acting is a lot easier to notice.

The show offered some pretty funny bits, among them Kate’s fling with a high school boy and Riki’s misadventures in baby-making.   But nothing stood out enough to save a show that never really found a reason to exist beyond ‘let’s give these two a sitcom’.  It may have been because of factors beyond Garfunkel and Oates‘ control that they got so forgettably lost in the shuffle, but there’s not much evidence in what survived that it deserved a chance to find a bigger audience.  Adieu, girls; we’ll always have YouTube.

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