At its core, the Comedy Bang! Bang! TV show is essentially a live-action cartoon. With each episode, anything can happen and does so with a logic that makes sense in this universe. So in “Mary Elizabeth Winstead,” when we discover that there has been a child star living in the walls of the CBB studio for thirty years, it doesn’t feel like a surprise. It’s more like, “Of course there is, why wouldn’t there be?” “Mary Elizabeth Winstead” is one of the funniest episodes of this season because it goes all-in with its cartoony aesthetic, and does so exceptionally well.
The episode starts with maybe one of my favorite framing devices this season, as we learn more about the history of the CBB studio. Thirty years ago, a show called Fancy Forks was canceled in the middle of the episode. During the episode, a character named Donald was playing hide-and-seek and just continued to play the game within the walls of the studio. Thirty years later, Donald (Steve Agee) remains in the walls, occasionally stealing Kid Cudi’s chocolate, leaving Scott and Cudi to believe that there’s a rat in the walls, which they need to get rid of before the Television Department Health inspector shows up.
This whole bit works because Agee is always hilarious, especially in his ability to seem innocent, even when awful things are happening to him. In this episode, he loses a finger, gets punched in the nuts and has an entire half of his body covered in nails. But his childishness—probably a result of the fact that he’s been living in the studio and surviving on stray chocolate—makes the entire segment work. But the whole idea works because of the payoff, when the inspector that shows up happens to be Donald’s Fancy Forks costar.
After a great string of female guests like Brie Larson and Carly Rae Jepsen, Mary Elizabeth Winstead puts them all to shame. She seems like a natural in this environment, especially in the strange birthday turkey segment that works incredibly well, due to her ability to sell this weird idea. Winstead gets plenty of great, small moments, like when she confronts Kid Cudi about his belief that hospitals don’t exist, or how she tries to explain The Beatles to Scott while returning from break. “Mary Elizabeth Winstead” posits that the entire show might be in Winstead’s head, and I wouldn’t have a problem with that at all.
Horatio Sanz as Ahman Rashad al-Zarqawi never quite lives up to his hilarious name, but it is always fun to see Aukerman and Sanz play off each other. al-Zarqawi is an Arab American inventor quick to explain he’s not a terrorist, even though he made a hologram device called ISIS and is in fact a member of ISIS. al-Zarqawi feels like one of the few CBB character guests that would work well on the podcast due to the slow escalation of his character’s insanity, but on the show with a limited amount of time, the character doesn’t have the opportunity to build up.
As Scott says at the end, “this was a weird episode.” He’s right, it’s weird even by CBB standards. But as the last few weeks have shown, embracing the weirdness of this show and going a bit more cartoony that usual, means the series can really excel.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.