Warner Bros. // 1993 // 299 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // December 17th, 2003
Thirteen episodes of the Emmy award winning TV show!
You all know Ben Stiller from his hot movies like There's Something About Mary and Meet The Parents. But before Ben became a national movie star, he toiled long hours on his own TV show, cleverly titled The Ben Stiller Show. Originally aired in September of 1992 on the Fox network, The Ben Stiller Show lasted only 12 episodes (RIP: January 1993), then was blasted into TV history that has since garnered a following of epic proportions (epic proportion = geeks who go to record / movie conventions and by bootlegs of the show). The show's format wasn't unlike Saturday Night Live on a smaller scale: Stiller plays various funny characters with a small cast of clowns orbiting around him. Included in the supporting cast was then-unknowns Andy Dick (NewsRadio), Janeane Garofolo (The Truth About Cats and Dogs), and Bob Odenkirk (TV's Mr. Show). Along with the regulars were often guest hosts, including Garry Shandling, Dennis Miller, Sarah Jessica Parker, Rob Morrow, and a bevy of "surprise" guests like Todd "Willis" Bridges, Rip Taylor, Norman "Mr. Roper" Fell, and other Z-level celebrities. From Bono to Bruce, Ben's skewered sense of the absurd takes aim at everything and everyone!
I've always had this theory about Ben Stiller: he's funnier on the small screen than on the big one. I've yet to see a movie starring Stiller that I've readily enjoyed. And yet I think he's a funny guy. The proof: 1992's The Ben Stiller Show, a subversively wicked TV series that was, alas, far too creative and funny for its own good. Cancelled after only 12 episodes (though an unaired thirteenth episode is included here), Stiller's humor runs the gamut as he takes potshots at everyone from superstar agents to Bruce Springsteen to Beverly Hills 90201 and Melrose Place. There is a sort of mad genius at work in these skits. Though Stiller is the star, he's assembled a first rate supporting cast, as well as some very sharp writers (including David Cross, Odenkirk, and Dana Gould). The effect: a very well written show with some truly classic comedy bits. Here are just a few of the highlights:
* Witness a great parody of Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives, retold from the point of view of Frankenstein's monster (Stiller), The Mummy (Dick), and other classic Universal monster characters.
* In "Legends of Springsteen," Stiller sends up Bruce's "working class hero" image by having the famous rocker visit bars, taverns, and even Abe Lincoln in an effort to show he's truly the hardest working man in show business.
* It's a new version of the classic Lassie TV series with everyone's favorite lunatic Charles Manson (Odenkirk) replacing the brave canine to hysterical effect.
* In "The Last Stand of Yakov Smirnoff," we find out the answer to one of life's burning questions: can he still be funny when Russia isn't the butt of the joke anymore?
* On the new game show "Amish Studs," we're privy to the Amish's simple dating lifestyle, even if it means learning that "plowing my field" had a different meaning when you're not at work.
* When Johnny Carson stepped down at The Tonight Show, a replacement had to be found. Before Leno auditioned for the gig, there was Norman Fell and Todd Bridges! Hilarity ensures!
Many other skits are filled with so many absurd moments that you can't help but laugh at the sheer nuttiness of it all. Stiller finds the right balance between stupidity and cleverness, a rare feat considering all the crap comedy cluttering up the airwaves in 2003. Of course, not every skit is a gem -- the Melrose Place spoofs fall flat, and the movie trailer for "Cape Munster" (a take off of Cape Fear starring Eddie Munster) just doesn't cut as sharply as one might hope. Really, was Butch Patrick worth skewering? Yet on the whole this show really had some great moments, all captured on this fine set for fans to relive over and over again. It's a fine treat that Warner has released this set -- this set is an entertaining look back at how Stiller, Dick, and Garofolo got started before they became movie and prime time regulars. Recommended.
Each episode of The Ben Stiller Show is presented in its original 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio. This is a TV show of the variety kind, so certain images look better than others. In some episodes, the video is supposed to look shoddy in the bumpers between skits. Other skits and scenes feature solid colors and dark black levels. Hey, it's a TV show from the early 1990s that was cancelled after only one season -- be glad it found the light of day on DVD! The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Surround in English. Much like the video transfer, there isn't much to report here -- the sound is clear and well recorded. There aren't any surround sounds in the mix, and none are needed. Also included are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
Most TV shows new-to-DVD are only given a bare bones treatment, especially ones that were cancelled after only a single season. Now so with Warner's The Ben Stiller Show two-disc set. Starting off disc one are commentary tracks on episode 1 (Ben Stiller and co-creator Judd Apatow) and episodes 5 and 8 (Stiller, Apatow, Andy Dick, Janeane Garofalo, and writers Rob Cohen and Brent Forrester). Commentary is also available on the second disc on episodes 9, 10, 12, and 13. All of these tracks will be gems for fans of the series -- Stiller comments on the show's inceptions, skits, cast members, guest hosts, and lots more. Along with the witty banter and funny comments, these tracks are a nice historical reference for those who love(d) this show.
Heading into disc two there are a few unaired sketches that feature optional commentary by Stiller and company. Also included are some fairly amusing outtakes (including Odenkirk as Manson and Stiller as a Tony Robbins guru lookalike), "A Brief History of the Ben Stiller Show" that includes notes on its creation and start (at MTV) and some snippets from the early episodes, and an "E! Behind The Scenes" short documentary on the making of the show. The whole shebang comes housed in a two-disc Digipak DVD case.
Review content copyright © 2003 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 299 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentary Tracks with the Writers and Stars
* Unaired Sketches
* "A Brief History of the Ben Stiller Show"
* "E! Behind The Scenes: The Ben Stiller Show"