“Hair Swap,” the fifth installment of Garfunkel and Oates’ first season, plays with the idea of appearances—virtual and real, friendly and romantic—that have played an integral role in the series thus far. Using themselves as lab mice in a kind of social experiment (a seemingly favorite pastime of the two), Kate and Riki explore the aftermath of switching hairstyles with one another. The end result is a sweet one: a truly funny analysis of our culture’s shallow nature, along with guest appearances from Busy Phillips, Ike Barinholtz and The Meltdown’s Kumail Nanjiani and Jonah Ray.
The hair swap is half-realized from the start of the episode, when Riki states that she’ll be going brunette for a horror film role. At the wig shop, Kate takes the opportunity to pick out a blonde wig for herself. Their motivations are clear: They believe that swapping styles will change people’s perceptions of them, and it does. A blonde Kate is treated with suspicion by female counterparts, but fawned over by men during a night out at the bar. Brunette Riki is suddenly seen as every woman’s best friend, but marginalized by her “adorable”-ness with men.
In a standout scene, Riki flirts with two bar patrons, Charlie and Jordan (Nanjiani and Ray), but her sexy quips are quickly dismissed as awkward banter. She realizes this immediately, and attempts to hold their attention by inventing a string of quirky interests (including a love for paddle boats) that is a dead-on imitation of Kate. The men are charmed, but her treatment is undeniably second-tier. Kate, on the other hand, channels Riki with incredible success. She dials up her sassiness, demands attention, and ends up going home with Charlie. Although, in a laughable moment of self-deprecation, Kate’s character falls asleep during sex. As she explains the next morning, it was past her bedtime, adding an asterisk to the hair swap theory. That is, a new hairstyle might affect how you’re perceived by others, but it will not change who you really are.
This week’s plot also deals with Cheryl, a “loose acquaintance” of Kate and Riki’s whose name seems to always escape them. She pops up several times in the episode—on the street, at a party, on Facebook, never failing to greet Kate and Riki with a warm, familiar smile, but time and again forgotten by them. This inspires a song about forgetful faces, which hilariously asks the following: If we’ve met several times and I still can’t remember you, am I an asshole, or are you really boring? Remaining the punchline of jokes concerning modern relationships, Cheryl inspires a second song in “Hair Swap.” This one deals with Facebook, and the proper etiquette one should give a social media connection on her birthday. It’s a relatable vignette that underlines the hollowness of virtual congratulations, right down to Riki’s point-blank recommendation of using three exclamation marks after “Happy Birthday.”
Garfunkel and Oates relate-ability is arguably the crux of its charm, with ample pop culture references that any millennial can appreciate. In addition, “Hair Swap” continues to develop an intensely relatable quality to Kate and Riki themselves, particularly in a world where nearly all characters are exaggerated to extremes. In every episode, and most certainly in “Hair Swap,” Kate and Riki prove to be our voices of reason—the “straight men” characters that magnify the ridiculous, banal or absurd aspects of our day-to-day lives. It’s often done at their own expense, but always under a pretense that we, as viewers, can learn through their experiences (and isn’t that the best way to learn?). Coupled with always-evolving material that tops itself each week, there’s no denying it: Each Garfunkel and Oates episode, despite a short running time, is absolute comedic indulgence.