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.

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