Tuned In: 'Birthday Boys' consistently funny

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For "Breaking Bad" fans going through withdrawal and impatient for the proposed prequel series, "Better Call Saul," Saul himself is back on TV tonight in IFC's sketch comedy series "The Birthday Boys" (10:30).

Comic actor Bob Odenkirk, who played sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman on AMC's "Breaking Bad," executive produces and co-stars in "The Birthday Boys," which features a comedy troupe by the same name. This isn't Mr. Odenkirk's first go-around with a sketch comedy show: He starred in HBO's 1995-98 series "Mr. Show" alongside David Cross ("Arrested Development").

Mr. Odenkirk appears in all 10 episodes of "The Birthday Boys," sometimes sparingly, sometimes in a larger role.

If IFC's "Portlandia" is a more indie, off-kilter sketch comedy series, "The Birthday Boys" is sillier, louder and tackles more guy-centric subjects.

Tonight's premiere features an ongoing sketch that's part reality show spoof and part man-cave adoration as computer geeks design computers in their Silicon Valley garage but care more about the garage itself than their revolutionary inventions. They're fascinated with interior decorating for the garage and just sort of shrug at their computer handiwork, which gets ripped off by a businessman (Mr. Odenkirk) who dresses in black shirts like Steve Jobs.

Recurring sketches thread through each episode. In the premiere, there's a remote control car that sets out on an adventure -- set to music that's similar to Trolley's theme from "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" -- but gets discouraged and turns to liquor and prostitutes.

The sketches often are centered on recognizable archetypes and then take an unexpected left turn. A bunch of marauding hooligans who go into a neighborhood with eggs, toilet paper and shaving cream turn out to be less destructive than their initial stereotyped presentation suggests.

"The Birthday Boys" is a consistently funny show for viewers who are regular consumers of pop culture and recognize the elements from TV and film that are being spoofed.

Mr. Odenkirk's role is larger in next week's more outlandish episode where he plays a guy who is more amused by his roofers than a network sitcom. So he calls a network and suggests they hire the roofers, and soon "Goofy Roofers" is airing in prime time. In another recurring sketch he plays furniture salesman Dean Strickland, who fancies himself a college dean who's in perpetual battle with an unruly fraternity, a la "Animal House."

All but one of The Birthday Boys -- Jefferson Dutton, Dave Ferguson, Mike Hanford, Tim Kalpakis, Matt Kowalick, Mike Mitchell and Chris VanArtsdalen -- graduated from Ithaca College, moved separately to Los Angeles and joined the Upright Citizens Brigade before forming their own comedy troupe in 2007. Mr. Odenkirk became a fan and helped shepherd the series to IFC with fellow executive producer Ben Stiller, who was the lead of the critically acclaimed but short-lived 1992-93 Fox sketch comedy, "The Ben Stiller Show" prior to his breakout 1998 hit "There's Something About Mary."

'Queer Eye' reunion

Bravo debuts "Queer Eye Reunion: 10 Years Later" (9 p.m. Sunday), which reunites "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" stars Ted Allen, Kyan Douglas, Thom Filicia, Carson Kressley and Jai Rodriguez for the first time in seven years. Andy Cohen hosts the conversation about their favorite moments from the series and its impact on American culture.

PBS arts fest

The "PBS Arts Fall Festival" kicks off tonight at 9 on WQED-TV with a 40th anniversary celebration for "Great Performances," including performances by Julie Andrews, Audra McDonald, Josh Groban and Michael Buble.

The "Arts Fall Festival" continues next Friday with "A Raisin in the Sun Revisited."

Other installments are "Great Performances: 'Moby-Dick' From the San Francisco Opera" (9 p.m. Nov. 1), "Great Performances: Stephen Sondheim's 'Company' With the New York Philharmonic" (9 p.m. Nov. 8), "Great Performances: Rodgers & Hammerstein's 'Oklahoma!' " (9 p.m. Nov. 15), "Nashville 2.0" (9 p.m. Nov. 22) and "Great Performances: Barbra Streisand: Back to Brooklyn" (9 p.m. Nov. 29).

Channel surfing

AMC's "The Walking Dead" drew 16.1 million viewers to its fourth season premiere Sunday, its highest-rated episode ever. ... ABC Family renewed "The Fosters" for a second season; new episodes return in January. ... IFC renewed "Comedy Bang! Bang!" for a third season to air in two 10-episode installments in 2014. ... MTV renewed "Teen Wolf" for a fourth season and will add an on-air "Wolf Watch" companion series airing directly after new episodes when the balance of the show's third season returns at 10 p.m. Jan. 6. ... ABC's Bill Weir has jumped to CNN; Dan Harris was named his replacement as co-anchor of ABC's "Nightline." ... New episodes of "Axe Cop" and "High School USA!" will air on Fox's "Animation Domination High Def" (11 p.m. Saturday) beginning Nov. 2. Two new series -- "Lucas Bros. Moving Co." and "Golan the Insatiable" -- will get preview airings on Nov. 23. ... NBC's "Saturday Night Live" is a rerun this weekend but returns with a new episode Oct. 26 with Edward Norton as host and Janelle Monae as musical guest. On Nov. 2, Kerry Washington ("Scandal") hosts with Eminem as musical guest. ... WQED's next episode of "iQ: smartparent" (8 p.m. Thursday) is titled "Tots + Tech" and explores considerations for exposing children to media -- videos, apps, e-readers -- in early childhood.

Tuned In online

Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about "Mike & Molly," "Glee" and "Last Man Standing." This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on "Game of Thrones," "56 Up" and "Sean Saves the World" star Megan Hilty. Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.

This week's podcast includes conversation about "The Millers," "Glee," "Super Fun Night" and the next new show that's likely to be canceled. Subscribe or listen at http://old.post-gazette.com/podcast.


TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook for breaking TV news. First Published October 17, 2013 8:00 PM


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