Comedy Central // 1999 // 273 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // May 27th, 2004
"I was boozer, a user, and a loser. I stole the TV!" -- Jerri Blank
The anti-afterschool special, Comedy Central's three-season strong Strangers With Candy played havoc with the high school genre. Using it as a springboard, writers/creators/stars Paul Dinello, Amy Sedaris, and Steven Colbert launched into new realms of political incorrectness and boundary-pushing mayhem.
The result? A raucous send-up of feel-good morality plays; it was a vulgarity-infested satire, where no one was off limits. The show, despite its brief run (actually, kinda sorta long for a non-South Park original series), corralled a loyal cult following.
Well, back away from the Kool-Aid! Comedy Central has unleashed the second season of Strangers With Candy on DVD.
If Saved by the Bell was an idealized high school heaven, Strangers With Candy exists at the polar opposite, as a perverse high school hell. Hugging? Tearful breakups? Lessons learned? Pa-sha!!! Don't bet on it. The students and teachers at Flatpoint High give two flaming frappes about one thing: themselves. The creators themselves noted that their first priority was to fashion characters that are utterly self-involved. The loons that populate the hallways of Flatpoint take selfishness to stratospheric levels, and the payoff is macabre, but often hilarious.
First, there's Jerri Blank (Amy Sedaris), a 46 year-old high school dropout who lived a life of prostitution, drugs, and alcohol (all played completely for laughs; on her career aptitude test, Jerri finds she is best suited to be a "junkie whore.") She has returned to school to face the trials of the normal washed-up-hooker-cum-angst-ridden-teen.
Chuck Noblet (Daily Show correspondent Steven Colbert) and Geoffrey Jellineck (Paul Dinello) are two teachers, selfish, bored, and ambiguously dating. They are often pulled into Jerri's experiences, unwillingly most of the time, and unhelpful all of the time. The school is ruled over by Principal Onyx Blackman (Greg Hollimon), a pseudo-tyrannical leader who looks to Flatpoint to fuel his ego.
Each episode deals with a specific challenge for Jerri, who struggles with it and then clues the audience into the moral she has learned for that week. Sounds nice and wholesome, but trust me, Zack and Slater would go insane after a semester with Jerri.
The show's second season brings ten episodes and a new set of ten problems for Jerri to grapple with. Ten lessons to learn, or unlearn as the case may be.
This is easily one of my favorite shows of all time. It's so compulsively watchable, and rare are the episodes that find me stone-faced. The power trio of Dinello/Sedaris/Colbert brings home the bacon with incessant farce.
These three not only pushed the envelope in this series, they attached a Roman candle to the back of the envelope and blew that sucker to kingdom come. Racial slurs, sexual innuendo, and degradation of all -- it's wickedly abundant.
Some of my favorite episodes are present in this Season Two offering. The first season was certainly okay, but the characters didn't really come into their own pathetic selves until now; and, for the most part, the writing is superior.
Here's a list and synopses of the ten episodes in the set:
"Yes You Can't!"
It's career day at Flatpoint High, and Jerri is confronted with the fact that she has no vision for her future. Her aptitude test yielded unfavorable results (see above) and she feels pressured to work at the artificial-flower-plant plant. Even the advice of Andy Richter can't give Jerri the guidance she needs. Meanwhile, Mr. Jellineck decides to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a painter, which, of course leads to a life of destitution. Seeing Jellineck keeping himself warm with his paintings is priceless.
"Behind Blank Eyes"
It's disability theme this week, as Jerri meets Alan, a blind student striving to make the Flatpoint football team. While he struggles for acceptance among his peers, Jerri struggles to understand what it's like to be blind, even going as far as blindfolding herself for a day (until she gets sick of it.) Jerri's insensitivity and Alan's fate on the football field are the highlights, but a lack of Jellineck and Noblet hurts this episode.
"The Virgin Jerri"
Inspired by a health project, Jerri reclaims her long-gone virginity, finding acceptance in the elite clique of the high school chaste. At the same time, she must withstand the advances of a horny hunk and the advances of her own uncontrollable lust. Walking around wearing a virgin nametag with a cherry affixed to it is just darn disturbing.
"The Goodbye Guy"
As the annual Flatpoint Father/Daughter sack race (poster: "Hop in the sack with your dad!") approaches, Jerri and her dad are practicing, when the old man is suddenly assaulted by a pack of wild dogs and killed. Jerri must confront the intense feelings of sorrow while absorbing not-so-comforting advice from the teachers at Flatpoint. This episode contains one of my favorite lines, when the doctor reveals the bad news: "What's left of your father, is dead."
"Hit and Run"
Another tragedy befalls Jerri -- well, technically it befalls Mr. Jellineck. It's guilt that befalls Jerri, when she strives to cover up her hit-and-run accident with the art teacher, rendering him faceless. Noblet also bears intense guilt, as he is reluctant to admit that he had been meeting Geoffrey for a clandestine lovers' picnic. Gore is heavy in this episode; note Jerri washing the blood off her car with Jellineck's face. Colbert is as funny as ever as the paranoid Noblet.
"The Blank Page"
Jerri's desire to be a cheerleader ("V-A-G!") is thwarted, when her illiteracy is revealed to the school. She becomes the laughingstock of the district, and Principal Blackman can't have that. As such he orders Noblet to teach Jerri to read. The Noblet/Jerri interaction is great and culminates in a tasteless mockery of the Helen Keller/Ann Sullivan dynamic.
"Love, Honor, and Pretend"
Coach Wolf and Mr. Jellineck enter into a real marriage, as a teaching tool for students. Jerri looks to emulate the oddly matched duo. The episode is Noblet/Jellineck centered, the highlight of which is the double-date dinner at the Noblet household. ("I've seen that drill press a thousand times Chuck.")
"The Blank Stare, Parts 1 and 2"
In this hard-hitting two-parter, my favorites of the whole series, Jerri contends with the allure of a mind-control cult. Promised to be loved and accepted, Jerri finds the folks at "Safe-Trap House" more appealing than the people in real life. In an effort to spring her from the dangerous cult, Orlando enlists the aid of Principal Blackman, Noblet, and Jellineck. There is much to love in these episodes. The cult leader's eventual distaste of Jerri, "We take your babies," Noblet's weak will, Geoffrey's utter self-involvement, Blackman's desire for domination over his students' minds, the unrelenting "Welcome Table" song, and on and on.
Grade: A+ for both
"A Price too High For Riches"
Probably the most disappointing in the bunch, but still pretty funny in places. Jerri's obsession with the newest, coolest sneakers leads to a fixation on getting rich. She finds an after-school job at a shoe store, but unfortunately this sequence drags a bit. "Poorlando," though, is pretty funny.
The audio/visual transfer is what you'd expect from a series, full-screen and stereo -- functional. The video actually looks pretty sharp.
Special features include an interview from The Museum of Television and Radio, featuring Sedaris, Colbert, Dinello, Hollimon, and producer Kent Alterman. The dialogue proved to be informative and light-hearted, as the group relayed anecdotes about the creative process, their history together, and convincing Comedy Central to let them air all the edgy material they concocted.
What was a surprising letdown, however, were the commentary tracks. Four episodes feature commentary from Dinello, Colbert, and Sedaris, and I was expecting some pretty uproarious stuff. However, for the most part, what I got were three people watching shows they made and laughing at their own jokes.
Hey, that's fine, but I was expecting a little more subtlety in their observations, and some more back info on the show itself.
Eh, on the other hand, this is a show where a 46-year old washed up junkie whore describes her genitals as "a damp cellar" to a blind kid. I doubt that subtlety is what they were after.
Long yearned for by fans, Strangers With Candy can finally be owned. Probably the best season of the three, Season Two provides some of the more classic moments. If you're a fan of the series, you pre-ordered this set before it was released. For comedy unlike anything you've ever seen that will do your inner junior-high child proud, check it out.
School is in session. It's bizarre and unsettling and hilarious and the court loves it. Case dismissed!
Review content copyright © 2004 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Comedy Central
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 273 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Cast Interview
* Review of Season One