Skeptics could be forgiven for thinking they've got the latest Brave New Workshop show pegged without setting foot in the theater.
From its title to its promotional art, "Ferris Mueller's Day Off" promises to be the kind of mildly biting satire that mines laughs from '80s pop-culture references and easy juxtapositions, such as famously strait-laced former FBI director Robert Mueller breaking into a song-and-dance routine about the rigors of a federal investigation.
As it happens, the show does provide exactly that, but also a good deal more.
While "Ferris Mueller's Day Off" is, like many Brave New Workshop shows, a showcase of political sketch comedy, the definition of "political" goes beyond the easy name-checking of current events you'll find in a "Saturday Night Live" cold open. Sure, we get familiar caricatures of people like Mueller, Donald Trump and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but we also get explorations of more ambitious, abstract issues.
Identity politics take center stage in "Casting," a sketch that finds a trio of casting directors desperately trying to persuade straight, white male actor Ryan Nelson to be something a little more "diverse."
"Gratitude Practice" dives into gender politics, following a frustrated Taj Ruler's struggle to get an oblivious Lauren Anderson to grasp feminism as more than a string of New Age buzzwords.
Racial politics get a nod in "Taking a Break," as Denzel Belin and Ruler explain how exhausting it is to be, respectively, the only black and "soft ethnic" members of an otherwise white cast.
Exhaustion is a running thread throughout the show, starting with Tom Reed's ultra-focused Mueller reluctantly taking a vacation day. In sketches tackling topics like self-care, unearned nostalgia and "the tyranny of happiness," it's clear that the show's writer/performers are feeling the stress of the modern era. It's a relatable concept to anyone burned out on our mentally taxing news cycle, and that relatability is a big part of why the show works.
All five cast members immediately establish themselves as distinct personalities, creating a "we're all in this together" bond with the audience that makes the jokes hit that much harder. Anderson and Ruler, in particular, have an infectious rapport, with their shared sketches generating the evening's biggest gales of laughter.
It's certainly not a show for everyone — hard-core Trump backers won't find much sympathy in the script, and Mike Pence fans even less — and as with any sketch show, some scenes land better than others. For left-leaning comedy fans, though, it's about as consistent an evening of political comedy as one could hope for.
Ira Brooker is a St. Paul-based freelance writer and editor.