Tonight, Canadian import Baroness von Sketch Show returns to IFC for its fourth season. (10 episodes were available for review, and six episodes have already aired in Canada.) The sketch comedy series—starring, created by, and written by Canadian sketch comedy quartet Carolyn Taylor, Meredith MacNeill, Aurora Browne, and Jennifer Whalen (who also serves as showrunner)—originally premiered on Canada’s CBC Television in June 2016 before IFC started airing it for audiences in the States in the summer of 2017. (IFC has also already renewed the series for a fifth season.) It’s notable not just because of its status as a Canadian sketch comedy series—which is quite the lofty standard to live up to—but because it’s a sketch series from and starring four middle-aged white women, a fact it wears proudly on its sleeve.
Regarding another recent Canadian/CBC comedy import, Workin’ Moms, I wrote about how, despite not being a “workin’ mom” myself, I’ve been able to greatly relate with and connect to the show, based on certain emotional universalities. A similar resonance and connection actually comes with Baroness von Sketch Show, on an even greater scale—and despite the aforementioned Canadian middle-aged white women perspective. Because, despite the aspects of the series that make it very specific and come from a very underappreciated perspective and demographic (again, in addition to the Canada of it all*), it still is able to cover a large amount of the feminine perspective, regardless of race, ethnicity, and/or age.
*There is a sketch this season all about characters moving from Toronto to Hamilton (in Ontario, Canada), which may not track with United States geography but certainly captures the spirit that anyone can recognize about moving deep into the suburbs and away from all of your friends in the city. Which, again, speaks to the impressive relatability of the series.
In fact, Baroness von Sketch Show arguably makes a perfect companion piece with HBO’s freshman sketch comedy series A Black Lady Sketch Show, with the two highlighting opposite racial ends of the feminine spectrum, yet simultaneously covering a number of similar issues. Again, that universality comes into play, as there are certain things that are, often unfortunately, shared female experiences. Season 4 of Baroness von Sketch Show actually highlights this perfectly with its twist on a Stranger Things parody—despite the fact that the series is not the type to do full-blown parodies of established IP, as opposed to something like Saturday Night Live*—where various male office colleagues “learn” of the upside down world women live in, as all the women around them react with how upsettingly normal it actually is for them.
*In using the Stranger Things font and score, this is the first Baroness von Sketch Show to really go for anything resembling an obvious parody on a bit of IP. And even then, it subverts that, as that’s not especially its particular brand of humor.
Still, Baroness von Sketch Show is absolutely coming from a very specific perspective, one that could very easily fall into the pitfalls of “white feminism” and being tone-deaf to any kind of experience outside of that. But the series and its cast and writers clearly realize that, often instead turning that into the punchline. (Like in this season’s “Drag Race” sketch from Episode Six, “Shangela Was Robbed,” as well as the Stranger Things sketch.) Since the beginning, Baroness von Sketch Show has made sure to have a strong standby of supplemental cast of men and women of color to break up the homogeny and also avoid any unfortunate casting choices. And it also knows how to strengthen what it generally is at the same time, like in a sketch with an archetypal character (played by Jennifer Whalen) of “That Lady,” which is the version of a “BBQ Becky” or a “Permit Patty” or a “Cornerstore Caroline” who actually uses her privilege for good in public settings. Or in a sketch where a server has to learn the hard way that the worst patrons you can get are “two middle-aged women.”
Sometimes the show just wants to dunk on scrunchies and the terrifying truth that those are coming back into style or the very scary fact that someone born in 1998 is a fully-grown adult. It’s also not afraid to do gross-out humor, which is honestly not where the series excels (even if it pings on an undiscussed topic like period-induced diarrhea) but serves as a reminder that the series isn’t just about hot button issues or making a real point. It also serves as a reminder that the series is not afraid to go down a rabbit hole once it starts. Impressively, the series never comes from a place where it talks down or mocks millennials or Gen Z or people outside the generation of the show’s creators. That itself is another reason why it’s able to be such a relatable series across multiple spectrums, because it manages to find that aforementioned universality among pretty much all (or at least most) women. In 2019, unfortunately, dealing with finding the perfect selfie angle, or a guy asking for nudes after one date, or street harassment, or even someone peeing all over a public restroom toilet seat (this show isn’t just a white feminist study aid) aren’t just specific to one specific age group. And there’s always some sort of nightmare on an airplane, am I right, ladies?
Baroness von Sketch Show also likes to get extremely specific and granular with its comedy, despite working on a generally relatable level. For example, the first sketch of the season is one in the promo for the show, with the characters talking about the shows they’re binge-watching. It would be so easy to make up a show or to even make up specific points about real shows; but instead, the sketch gets into real specifics that anyone who’s ever binge-watched those same shows would also agree with (like the points about Friday Night Lights and The Leftovers), before it gets to the punchline, which is, of course, a very specific one about parenthood.
Despite being a cast who’s not quite familiar or recognizable to a United States audience, each cast member has their own strength that instantly makes them stick out in the show. Aurora Browne is the ultimate straight woman, which only makes completely over-the-top sketches like “Drag Race” even funnier. Carolyn Taylor is able to go from dry to unhinged in the blink of an eye. Jennifer Whalen can play any somewhat deranged character with a spark of confidence that makes you think that maybe she’s on to something. (This season’s “Placenta” sketch is a great example, but last season’s “You’re Denver Now” was the peak.) And Meredith MacNeill is an international treasure—in, mind you, a quartet of international treasures—for the way she can turn even the littlest things in the world—like going to work in heels for once—into the biggest event ever.
With a sketch series, “more of the same” can honestly mean a lot of things. Bringing up Saturday Night Live again, that has been one of the biggest issues with the series for years now, in addition to a lot of other problems from the ground up. However, in the case of Baroness von Sketch Show, while Season 4 is also more of the same, “the same” just happens to be very funny, often very intelligent, observational and anecdotal humor.
IFC describes the series as “a satirical sketch comedy with bite-sized observations of the absurdities of everyday life.” Well into its fourth season, the point of that description that most sticks out—and truly highlights where one of Baroness von Sketch Show’s greatest strength lies—is the “bite-sized.” There are, thankfully, very few occasions where a Baroness von Sketch Show sketch feels like it has overstayed/outstayed its welcome. It’s both a luxury of pre-taped sketch comedy and one of the lessons one wishes that Saturday Night Live could learn. For the most part, the series gets into the sketch, lays out the punchline and a twist (or even two), and then gets out. There are recurring bits—like the subversive construction workers—and vaguely similar characters—pretty much anytime there’s an office sketch—but Baroness von Sketch Show never needs to stick with them any longer than the sketch truly needs. It’s a sketch comedy show that is well aware that brevity is the soul of wit—and it’s also a sketch comedy show with an extremely quick wit.
Despite her mother’s wishes, LaToya Ferguson is a writer living in Los Angeles. If you want to talk The WB’s image campaigns circa 1999-2003, LaToya’s your girl. Her writing has been featured in The A.V. Club, IndieWire, and Entertainment Weekly, among other publications. You can find her tweets about TV shows, movies, and music you completely forgot about @lafergs.