TV Picks: ‘Comedy Bang! Bang!,’ ‘Newsroom,’ ‘Only the Young’

“Comedy Bang! Bang!” on IFC
Scott Aukerman and Reggie Watts star in IFC’s mock-talk show “Comedy Bang! Bang!” now beginning its second season.
Los Angeles Times Television Critic

“Comedy Bang! Bang!” (IFC, Friday). Scott Aukerman’s funny, not entirely faux talk show, developed from a podcast of the same name -- but with roots also in “Between Two Ferns With Zach Galifianakis,” the studiously awkward Web series he has produced and directed -- returns to IFC for a second season. (At 20 episodes, its twice the length of the first). Tonally, it is a kids’ show for adults, a kind of mix of “Fernwood 2Night,” “Space Ghost Coast to Coast” and “Pee Wee’s Playhouse,” with the earnest, unfocused flavor of public access cable (carefully re-created). Some parts are unscripted -- from actual “informative” conversation to the common creation of a false reality -- and others are elaborately staged. (Running through the new season’s second episode is a “Fantastic Voyage” parody in which a miniaturized medical team, led by Christopher Meloni, enters Aukerman’s body to cure his cold; a segment in the first finds hairy one-man bandleader and comic foil Reggie Watts going “Tron,” as he enters the Internet to fetch some tweets (there to meet Selma Blair and Lance Reddick). The rhythms of the show stay dry and deadpan even in moments of excitement, while the lack of an audience creates a kind of persistent mist of uneasiness: Why is no one laughing? Guests on the season opener include Andy Samberg as himself, or a version thereof, and Jordan Peele as a psychic; next week brings Aziz Ansara and man-of-many-faces Nick Kroll as the show’s craft services supervisor.

VIDEO: Summer 2013 TV preview

“The Newsroom” (HBO, Sundays). Aaron Sorkin’s cable-news comedy-drama returns for a second season, the first having been the cause of vigorous conversation (annoyed, offended, disappointed, disgusted -- though some positive, too), much of it surprised despite the fact that the series was wholly in the vein of every other show he’s made. (Just a little more so, which is possibly why the shock.) The third Sorkin show to be set in the world of television, it combines the political pondering and posturing of “The West Wing” with the “we’re-live-in-two” backstage dramedy of “Sports Night” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” and shares their signature mannered theatricality, gussied up with a kind of naturalism that still looks theatrical. Like its predecessors, this is a wish-fulfilling story of an idealized workplace, overseen by a boss who really, really cares and staffed with people who love, love, love, love their jobs -- while still finding time to moon and spoon from here to June, in a George Stevens-Howard Hawks kinda way. Politically, Sorkin arranges voices pro and con around whatever hot topic is up for discussion, albeit usually weighted toward the humanist take -- this year, which is set in 2011, giving the writer the benefit of hindsight, you will hear of Twitter, Libya, the presidential primaries and the Occupy movement. The new season looks to be more focused, but I care less about the point-making and plot, anyway, than I do for the music and the motion -- I just let them wash over me, and it feels all right.

“Only the Young” (PBS, Monday). Twentysomething Cal Arts alumni Jason Tippet and Elizabeth Mims return to the Santa Clarita Valley to make a documentary film (presented here under the auspices of the series “POV”) about being young in a distressed place and time, and about the pockets of beauty and relief they find there. The teenage trio of Kevin, Garrison and Skye are their intertwined subject -- skateboarding, punk-rock churchgoers in Black Flag and Minor Threat T-shirts. Tippet and Mims follow them through breakups and reconciliations and pledges and changes of allegiance, through radical haircuts and hair colors, from Halloween to Christmas to Valentine’s to graduation day. They clearly love these kids, and, as if honoring that fact, don’t attempt to abstract any lessons from their lives or herd them into thematic order. We see that Kevin has carved something into his arm, but there’s no context offered, only the moment, without explanation or conclusion. (Garrison: “You’re kind of freaking us out.” Kevin: “I’ve done this before, why are you freaking out now?”) Whatever editorializing there is here comes in the images themselves, which are artful without being arty, composed to reveal life rather than imposed upon it. They are tender as well toward the bleached blue California sky, the scrubby hills and high tension lines, the abandoned houses and secret creek-sides, housing tracts built to create an illusion of affluence, the ironic desolation of an abandoned miniature golf course. “This used to be a waterfall, I think,” says Garrison. “But now it’s just a fall.”


PHOTOS: Hollywood Backlot moments

Turner Classic’s Francois Truffaut festival continues (TCM, Friday) with a night of the director’s noir pieces -- some of them quite sunny and colorful and (though Gallic in the execution) all from American sources: “The Bride Wore Black” (1968), a serial revenge story starring Jeanne Moreau, adapted from the Cornell Woolrich novel (written as William Irish), and in which you will recognize Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill"; “Confidentially Yours” (1983), Truffaut’s final film, a Hitchcock-y mystery-romance with Fanny Ardant playing Nancy Drew for the benefit of Jean-Louis Trintignant, based on Charles Williams’ “The Long Saturday Night"; “Mississippi Mermaid” (1970), with Jean Paul-Belmondo seduced from respectability by Catherine Deneuve, adapted from Woolrich’s “Waltz into Darkness"; the rollicking black comedy “Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me” (1973), from Henry Farrell’s novel, with sociopath Bernadette Lafont a deadly Scheherazade; and the invaluable “Shoot the Piano Player” (1960), from David Goodis’ novel “Down There,” with Charles Aznavour as a concert pianist, more tender than tough, hiding out in the demi monde.


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