Thursday, February 10, 2011

Freestyle 2/10/11 - Archer, Upright Citizens Brigade, American Chopper

I am loving "Archer" on FX. It's a delightfully raunchy cartoon about a not-so-slick spy agency. It may be the most overtly dirty animated show ever. "Archer" comes from the same stable as "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" and other Adult Swim favorites - but don't let that deter you. While I found a lot of those shows too random, "Archer" is on point, and every episode has left me wanting more. The running jokes are a highlight. The cast features Chris Parnell, Jessica Walter, Aisha Tyler, and H. Jon Benjamin in the starring role. If the name isn't familiar, the voice will be - H. Jon appears the movie-obsessed clerk on "Family Guy" and the title character on "Bob's Burgers." If you love adult animation, "Archer" is an easy choice, Thursdays at 10 PM.

The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre is an absolute treat if you live in, or plan to visit Southern California. You may remember the short-lived sketch comedy series on Comedy Central; but this building does improv classes by day, and dirt cheap stage shows by night. These shows feature top-notch talent and super value for your nightlife dollar. I have attended two since moving to Los Angeles, each with a ticket price of five dollars.

The first was entitled "Greatest Concert Ever" and featured members of the troupe acting as the house band and hosts for the evening. One played a fictional songwriter from a fictional band, while another played Tom Waits, who you may remember from Tom Waits. Backing them up was "fat Keith Moon," a black gentleman who sat at the drum kit with a box of Twinkies. The band introduced up-and-coming comedians playing bizarre takeoffs on rock personalities. After engaging in some banter, and audience Q&A, they would break into song. For example, we were visited by "Mick Jagger making snacks for his friends," where a diminutive actor marched out with a Mick strut, giving sass to a snack bowl and a Tolberone bar. Someone in the audience asked if he "really fucked Janice Dickinson" which became a running gag when every guest thereafter was asked the same thing. The sheer lunacy of it all, combined with the energy of a real-life rock band in the intimate theater, made for an evening I won't soon forget.

The second show I attended was simply called "Facebook." Originally based on MySpace, one improv actor interviewed a member of the audience, and their Facebook was put on a projector screen. The interviewer would dissect their photos and updates, whilst three other actors sat offstage conjuring ideas and interjecting with their own questions. After the interview, the troupe would assemble to improvise scenes based off the interview. I initially expected tortured recreations of the exact stories told, but what I got was much better and clever. If a woman talked about flashing the football team in high school, it might get turned around into a bawdy scene at Thanksgiving dinner. The slices of life were used, but almost never copied. Even though the show's based off two audience members' Facebook pages, credit goes to the amazing cast for developing work around it. The performance I saw featured Seth Morris, Rob Huebel and Owen Burke - the latter two once panelists on VH1's "Best Week Ever." Rounding out the quartet was "Daily Show" and SNL alum Rob Riggle, then hot off the release of "The Other Guys." His boisterous contributions helped make the night special.

I heartily recommend giving one of their shows a try. Their home on the web is, and there's a location in New York as well.

The latest season of "American Chopper" is hit and miss - mostly miss. The series had gotten noticeably long in the tooth over the past few years. The Teutul's sudden family feud, resulting in the firing of Junior, and Junior's opening a competing shop, injected new life in the franchise. The resulting shows, however, are difficult to enjoy. Watching these grown men snipe at each other amid suits and countersuits is a lot like being the child of a divorcee. Senior's lack of ability to articulate what's going on makes watching OCC segments a chore. You also realize that perhaps everything interesting has already been done with custom motorcycles. I'm interested in the big picture outcomes here. But the dull back-and-forth building combined with uncomfortable family in-fighting makes for a not-so-tasty recipe.

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