The Aces is half comedy show and half anthropological investigation. In scene after scene, Shelley McLendon and Michael Fetters assume roles whose humor lies in their precisely captured familiarity: Now they're an elderly couple, bickering over who ate the last chocolate chip cheesecake bite; now they're teenagers flirting at a roller rink; now she's an owl, and he's the blundering bird lover who just "rescued" her from a barn. McLendon's owl is a recurring character, and if it doesn't inspire outright hilarity, her committed impression would demand any ornithologist's respect, from the laser-beam focus of her eyes to the persistent whomp of her arm-wings as she flails against a wall, trying to flee her well-meaning captor.
McLendon and Fetters are regulars in the comedy world, both veterans of Road House: The Play! and sketch troupe Sweat. Their experience shows: The concepts here are solid, the characters sharply drawn, and what could be a limitation—the two-person configuration—is instead taken as an opportunity to twist the sketch format in interesting ways.
The Aces' show never ceases being fun to watch; what was missing, for me, were jokes that elevated the production from enjoyable to hilarious. While I frequently found myself thinking, "Oh, that's clever," I laughed out loud considerably less often. (It should be noted that the crowd on the night I saw the show found the whole thing pretty damn funny.) Part of the problem is that McLendon and Fetters don't always want you to get the joke right away: In two separate sketches, punchlines are delayed until much later in the show, leaving the uncomfortable (albeit temporary) impression that a sketch has either been botched or is coasting on pure Family Guy-style randomness. The aforementioned anthropological bent also tends to keep the audience at a slight remove: A nature channel-style sketch in which voiceover narration described the mating patterns of the American teenager was cute, but the conceit itself was distancing.
This is a strange show to review, because under most circumstances, if a comedy show doesn't make you laugh, then it has failed. But McLendon and Fetters are incredibly assured, smart performers: McLendon is unerringly precise in her choices, while Fetters is an outlandishly talented character actor, and the two have an easy charisma. I might not've laughed out loud, but I still quite enjoyed spending an hour with them.