Fred Armisen and Charlyne Yi in the first episode of "Bandmates"
(Charlyne Yi via youtube)
“Bandmates,” Charlyne Yi’s new web series (or random one-off), is a lot like Charlyne Yi: A real-seeming fake thing. Or possibly a fake-seeming real thing. In the most literal sense it is an improvised six-and-a-half-minute comic sketch in which her character auditions to form a band with another character, played by Fred Armisen. There are two funny parts: When Yi, responding to Armisen mentioning the ad he posted, simply says “I’m in” (the band, that is); and when she counts off the beginning of a “song” only to simply keep cracking her drum sticks together.
Armisen mirrors her, performing something like the same “song” after she finishes, which is about as funny (and about as annoying) as a child repeating your every word. But it highlights just how different Armisen and Yi are: He’s constitutionally incapable of inhabiting any character, remaining the same lightly ironic, sort of goofy, weirdly charmless Fred Armisen whatever role he’s in. Like Armisen, Yi always seems to be “herself.” But unlike Fred, she’s sunk into some kind of deep-cover performer thing. It’s like she incepted herself, and every time she has to play a different part, she descends another level into the dream-state. (How else to explain her role on “House”? Or her sitting for a promotional interview about her role on “House”?) Which, returning to “Bandmates,” would make Armisen Cobb’s top — a totem connecting her to reality, the authentic improv actor that she started out as. But really, what do we need that for?