Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Sarah Silverman Program - Season Two, Vol. One

Thank God, Comedy Central didn't cancel this show. For every bad show Comedy Central has on the air (Mind of Mencia) they seem to cancel two or three great ones. I'm still pissed they canceled Upright Citizens Brigade for Battlebots. Luckily, The Sarah Silverman Program avoided the axe and survived to see another season. People are pretty divided with this show. Some people love it while others can't stand it. I think it's because The Sarah Silverman Program has such a distinct style and voice that it really does have a certain audience, but it should be given the credit it really deserves.

Some might be annoyed that this release isn't a complete season. The writer's strike put a halt on the series last season (only at six episodes) but continued the rest of the season recently. I for one am not annoyed by their decision to release a Volume 1 set. I say this because I'd rather have it out than have to wait for the rest of the season to end (10 more episodes) and wait for them to release the DVD. Sure, you have to buy two volumes and I wouldn't put it past them to release the whole season at a later date, but too much time was taken in between and it makes sense to have this release. Also this means they're able to provide more extras, especially commentary, which I'm keen on.

The Sarah Silverman Program follows the everyday life of Sarah Silverman, her two gay neighbors and friends Brian and Steve (played by the straight Brian Posehn and Steve Agee), her sister Laura (played by her actual sister Laura Silverman) and Laura's cop boyfriend Jay (played by Jay Johnston). What makes the show enjoyable is that it doesn't follow the conventional sitcom formula and is even a step above programs that attempt the same thing.

What really makes this show is not Silverman (although she is great in this), but rather the supporting players. The cast is strong and very funny. Brian Posehn (Mr.Show, Comedians of Comedy and Just Shoot Me) and Steve Agee (best known from the "Chad Vader" shorts) have some of the best B and C storylines in the show and Laura Silverman (The Comeback, Dr. Katz) plays a great "straight man" or voice of reason in the chaos that goes on in this world, not to mention the naïve goofiness and often wet blanket character that Jay Johnston (Mr.Show) plays as Laura's boyfriend. Even the bit parts standout and flesh out the show. I was happy to see the return of the strange and hilarious characters The Mustangs (one of them is played by writer Chris Ramono) and the dark tone they took on in the episode "Doodie". There's also the return of God (played by Tucker Smallwood), Jay's coworker's Paul and Tig (both outstanding stand-up comedians played by Paul F. Topmkins and Tig Notaro) and the introduction of Mini Coffee, host of Cookie Party (played by Rob Schrab). It's this supporting cast of characters and bit parts that really make The Sarah Silverman Program as enjoyable as it is.

What I love about this show the most is the writing. When you can take the "real" world and have unrealistic and bizarre things happen and it not raise a question of believability or rationalization is great. It's there and it may be odd but it serves the purpose for comedic effect. It's something that shows like Strangers With Candy, Stella and The Adventures of Pete and Pete did so well. It's those hilarious fantastical things that take the show to another level that your average run-of-the-mill comedy show would never take a chance on.

Just like Silverman's standup, there are some pretty controversial topics covered but in a way only Silverman (and very few others) can pull off. For instance, there's the episode "Face Wars" where Silverman dons in black face in order to see what's it's like to black for a day and how they face prejudice. Yeah, it sounds terrible, but you have to watch it to really understand its context. The episode "Ah, Men", where she dates God and the episode "Bored of the Rings," which dealt with abortion, were also episodes that got some flak when they aired. I can see why people would be sensitive to it, but it's done in such a ridiculous and funny way that I can't understand how anyone could take the material so seriously and to heart.

The Sarah Silverman Program - S2, V1 has a great comedy team behind it. Writers Rob Schrab, Dan Harmon, Chris Romano, and Jon Schroeder have all done things for Channel 101 (awesome website with hilarious shorts), Human Giant, Heat Vision and Jack (the popular Jack Black and Owen Wilson Knight Rider-esque pilot that never made it on Fox) It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Acceptable TV (which was VERY underrated), the film Monster House and Jimmy Kimmel Live. Directors Schrab, Wayne McClammy and Steven K. Tsuchida really bring out the show's strong comedic points and are perfect to bring to life the unique material written. Schrab is best known for his Channel 101 shorts like "Twigger's Holiday" and "Ringwald and Molly" and the short film "Robot Bastard". McClammy was the director for the "I'm F**king Matt Damon" video which was seen on Jimmy Kimmel Live and Tsuchida did the acclaimed short "A Ninja Pays Half My Rent". Then there are the producers of the show that include Todd Barry (very funny stand-up), Megan Murphy (Curb Your Enthusiasm), Erin O'Malley (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Da Ali G Show and Greg The Bunny), Chris Smirnoff (Greg The Bunny and The PJs), Stephanie Meurer (Robot Chicken) as well as some of the writers and directors I mentioned earlier. Whew! An impressive roster that is evident in the end product.

The extras are pretty entertaining. I was very pleased with the commentary since they do offer some good insight and stories behind the episodes. My only problem with it is that there's no commentary for the episode "Joan of Arf". Other extras include the 2007 Comic Con panel, which is okay. It's only okay because the questions asked weren't all that great. Why is it at these panels the people who shouldn't ask questions always get a chance to ask them and waste good time? Then there are two digital shorts that include an animated feature called "Steve and Brian's Basement Adventure" (which was written and directed Justin Roiland who did the very funny web shorts "House of Cosbys") and a live-action short called "Brian's New Office". Also included are the animated shorts "Cookies Come Alive! Part I, II and III" (They're supposed to be the cartoons that are shown during "Cookie Party" and even have intros from Mini Coffee and Ookie) and finally Behind-The-Scenes shorts that are actually more sketches than anything really behind the scenes.

So far the rest of season two airing currently has held up and continues to keep me tuning in every week and hoping Comedy Central doesn't slip up and rob it of a much deserved third season. If you're a fan of Silverman and The Sarah Silverman Program (or even the type of humor I mentioned earlier with similar shows in tone and structure), I highly recommend you pick this DVD (and its first season) up.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Foot Fist Way

For about a year or two now I kept hearing about this low budget comedy called The Foot Fist Way starring an unknown but hilarious actor by the name of Danny McBride. Comedians like Patton Oswalt would talk about it and commentaries on films like Superbad and Hot Rod (both of which Danny McBride appeared in) would mention The Foot Fist Way. Once I saw McBride's performance in Hot Rod and heard about this small film he did, I was a bit annoyed I wouldn't be able to see it since it wasn't available to see anywhere (at least close), even on DVD. Thankfully Will Ferrell and Adam McKay stepped in and picked up the distribution rights so it could get a proper release. It also helped that McBride had roles in the successful summer films Tropic Thunder and Pineapple Express. There are a good number of people in the comedy world who love this movie and were hoping it'd be a surprise hit, but when the movie was released, it didn't seem to have that effect. But now that it's out on DVD, it might be able to find that larger audience.

The Foot Fist Way (which is the literal English translation of Tae Kwon Do) is about a Tae Kwon Do instructor by the name of Fred Simmons (Danny McBride) who proclaims himself the "king of the demo" (a demonstration of Tae Kwon Do). When Simmons finds out his wife (Mary Jane Bostic) has cheated on him, he begins to slip and become even more of an aggressive and insulting person than he originally was. After an encounter with his hero Chuck "The Truck" Wallace (played by co-writer Ben Best), he starts to turn things around, at least until he is betrayed once again by his wife and his hero Chuck "The Truck" Wallace. Simmons then has to find a way to rise above these unfortunate events and find the "strength" to pull it all together and to prove himself.

Based on what I had heard of this film and what I've seen McBride accomplish in recent films, I was expecting something completely laugh-out loud hilarious. No, this is not a laugh-out loud kind of movie and that's not a bad thing. It has a unique style of being very funny. I hate how people use the Napoleon Dynamite tag for whenever a new "indie" film comes along that shows some kind of subtle and or particular style of humor, so I refuse to compare it to that film. One thing I hate about the cover of this DVD is that they use a quote that mentions Napoleon Dynamite. Shut up! Retire it! But, it definitely has that feel of its own sense of humor that isn't completely spelled out or thrown in your face. Granted there are moments that are laugh-out loud funny, but the charm is in its style of having that particular and peculiar sense of humor.

McBride does a great job playing Simmons. He is a jerk, but you still find yourself hoping he pulls through. To a certain degree it evokes a reaction similar to when you see Ricky Gervais as David Brent on The Office (British version). You know they're a complete ass, but there's still enough humanity in them that you can't help but want some kind of pay-off for the character. The kids cast in this are used perfectly and the supporting cast is also great, especially Jody Hill (the director of this film) as Simmons' creepy and intense friend Mike. The characters are all believable even in their weird ways and weird situations, but that's just one of the ingredients that makes this film work.

The low budget and special tone of the film gives it this unique feel I didn't expect to have when watching it. It's that feeling you get from that movie you can share with friends when you have a few beers and need a good late night movie to throw on. It's similar to the feeling I got when I saw movies like Bottle Rocket or even Office Space. It just feels somewhat comfortable and something that feels special and your own. Part of it may stem from the fact I grew up and went to college in a similar environment and felt like the characters (their style, language, and their mannerisms) and even the neighborhoods and businesses were familiar. It's weird to say, but it's like that good friend you know is flawed but love to see because they're strangely comforting and you know you're going to get drunk and have a blast with them.

Extras include Commentary, Behind The Scenes (which actually feels like a strange music video with behind-the-scenes footage), Bloopers, Deleted and Extended Scenes, and an Alternate Ending. These features aren't too much to write home about, but there is a pretty funny deleted scene involving Julio and the punching dummy. The Alternate Ending is entertaining because you can definitely see why they cut it. It's pretty funny, but goes pretty out there even for their world.

The Foot Fist Way may not floor you or have you laughing out loud at every scene, but it does accomplish being an entertaining comedy that has its own voice, which is very refreshing these days. Grab some beers, invite some friends over, pop this DVD in and enjoy. I have a feeling The Foot Fist Way will finally find the audience it's been looking for and deserves.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia : Season 3

"The gang" is back for season three of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia. This is easily one of the best comedies on television today, and odds are you've probably never seen it. Very few television comedies can achieve what It's Always Sunny... pulls off with what seems like effortless ease and in this third season it really finds its stride and makes for some unique and original comedic television.

It's Always Sunny... revolves around the lives of four delightfully egotistical and self-serving friends who run a pub in Philadelphia. That's pretty much it. The show has been called "Seinfeld on Crack" which is actually a good description because the show deals with situations and conversations you would probably have in everyday life but they heighten the living the hell out of it and blow it to hilarious proportions.

A complaint some had about Seinfeld is that the characters were unsympathetic. If you're one of those people, then It's Always Sunny... is not for you. And if that's the case I feel very sorry for you. The characters can be seen as unsympathetic, but there's a great balance they've found with the show to where you do care about the main characters and can't help but watch what happens next. The characters do deplorable things to get their way, but in strange way, it's a cast of underdog characters who happen to have little morals. It's that underdog element and the way their motives are so cranked up that it keeps you hooked without tuning out. Even watching how they completely ruin the lives of fairly innocent characters, like Rickety Cricket and the Waitress, you can't help but be entertained and enjoy their tragic turns. It's something that's so tricky to pull off in comedy without being completely mean, but It's Always Sunny... knows how to execute it perfectly.

The season starts off strong with "The Gang Finds A Dumpster Baby" and continues being solid with episodes like "The Gang Solves the North Korea Situation," "Frank Sets Sweet Dee on Fire," and "Dennis Looks Like a Registered Sex Offender." However, it seems to get weaker at the end of the season but even the "weak" episodes are better and funnier than most comedies currently on television. This season features probably the best episode of the series, " Sweet Dee Dates a Retarded Person," in which you get to witness the debut of Charlie's musical masterpieces "Night Man" and "Day Man." You'll be singing the "Day Man" theme for months after seeing it.
The cast is a big part of why this show works so well. Danny DeVito is great as usual, but the chemistry between Charlie Day, Glen Howerton, Rob McElhenney, and Kaitlin Olson is fantastic. It's a cast that works so well together and can make misery look like ecstasy. The standout actor for me is Day who is extremely funny in this show. His mannerisms and way of speaking and reacting are some of the funniest character work around. I say "character work," but it makes me wonder how much of it is him or the character. That's why this cast works so well. Nothing seems forced or fake. It all flows naturally even when the situations are extremely ridiculous.

The special features in this set are entertaining but a bit spare. Special features include Commentary, Sunny Side Up Volume 2 Featurette, Meet The McPoyles Featurette, Danicing Guy Featurette, Gag Reel, and Season 3 TV spots. The features are fun, especially how they make comments at the expense of the directors (All three are former "child" actors, most notably Fred Savage). But I really wish this set had more commentary tracks. The two supplied for the episodes "The Gang Solves the North Korea Situation" and "Dennis Looks Like..." are funny, but I really would have loved some commentary on other episodes like "Frank Sets Sweet Dee on Fire" and "Sweet Dee's Dating a Retarded Person".

This may not be a comedy everyone can enjoy, but it should be. There's so much pleasure to be had with all the twisted and hilarious things this show offers. Turn the dial down on your PC filters, sit back and treat yourself to the hilarious gem that is It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.