MTV // 1994 // 760 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // July 13th, 2009
"Ever since the tacos have started coming, the mail hasn't come so much...or at all."
Pigs have flown. Hell has frozen over. Monkeys are flying out of my butt. (Insert pop culture idiom of your choice for "I can't believe this day has finally @#$&% come.) The State has been officially released on DVD.
In the early 1990s, a fledgling cable player called MTV decided to take a chance on a fresh-out-of-college sketch comedy troupe and give them q series of their own. These NYU players, comprised of 10 men and one woman, proceeded to unveil to the world some hilarious, offbeat comedy not a whole lot of people watched or wrote positive reviews about. No matter. For anyone who was in the know, The State made a lasting comedic impact for the four brief seasons they were juggled around MTV's late-night schedule.
"What is this blue -- I think it's meat? It's delicious!"
"I was under the impression we'd be playing for cash and prizes, not orphaned children"
"Can I get mine in the form of gift certificate to Red Lobster?"
and "I want to dip my balls in it!"
...were forever emblazoned upom the cerebral cortexes of a generation (me and my high school friends).
Now, after a seemingly unending delay, MTV and Paramount have released all 24 episodes worth of Gen X inanity. For the Love of Everything Righteous and Holy, do yourself a favor and secure a copy of the best sketch comedy collection you may have never heard of.
For so long, these shows have existed only in the choppy, half-assed YouTube videos, swapped VHS tapes, or bootlegged DVDs. Though I'll never understand why in the world MTV and Paramount dragged their heels in finally getting out an official release, at least it's here. I never thought I'd see the day. In fact, I am continually on the lookout for the sound of Heavenly trumpets and the commencement of the Tribulation, which I'm fairly certain was prophesized in Ezekiel to take place simultaneously with the release of this set.
But let's let bygones be bygones. Yes, it took a perplexingly long time to get these discs pressed -- especially when you consider much of the cast have gone on to do big, recognizable things -- but the finished product is such a solid respectful release, all is forgiven. Even if you, fan of The State, are still struggling to force down the bitter pill of forgiveness, I submit the first time you lay your eyes on the "Hormones" sketch in its digital transfer, while listening to commentary from the cast, your crankiness will evaporate into nothingness, like Kevin Allison's taco mailman.
Watching these episodes for the first time in chronological order, the trajectory of the troupe's comedy prowess is bracing. While I enjoy every season and there are classics to be found in each episode, tracing the evolution of The State's humor reveals a noticeable growth. Season One, while terrific, shows the group's relative greenness, sporting some truly bizarre styling that would populate sketches in later seasons, capping with Season Four, an insane, utterly hilarious, near-perfect stretch of sterling comedy.
Look, I'm sorry for the hyperbole, but more than any other sketch show, including heavy-hitters like SNL, Monty Python's Flying Circus, and Kids in the Hall, The State managed to zero in on my particular funny bone, working it for consistent laughs. Sketches tended to be short and punchy, driven by a nuclear reactor worth of energy...perhaps a bit too much, in some cases. As to be expected, there are some clunkers, but the moments that really worked would go on to become some of my favorite examples of the genre -- Captain Monterey Jack, Monkey Torture, Mind Match, Hepcat, Preschool Narc, Eating Muppets, Bookworm, Can I Go Play, Wildtown, Boy in a Barn, The Jew, The Italian and the Redhead Gay (Parts I and II), Prom Photos, The Bearded Men of Space Station 11, Betty's No Good Clothes Shop and Pancake House, Hot Dogs, Senator Cavanaugh, Cutlery Barn, Terrorist Situation (probably my favorite), Fragments, Prison Break, Sideways House, High Plains Magic Fairy, One Camper, and Gas Station. If these mean nothing to you, then promote the retrieval of this set in the top tier of your to-do list. Those of you in the know, I presume your copy will be arriving shortly.
Another plus for the troupe is the timelessness of their stuff. I'm not trying to be pretentious, but with very few exceptions (network-centric stuff like MTV Sports and The Grind, mandated inclusion in the broadcast), these sketches work just as well today as they did in 1995. Come on, "Festis the Birthday Hobo?" When doesn't that work?
Ironically, the best sign of the times is also one of the show's high points -- the soundtrack. Back in the day, The State slapped on all manner of licensed music to their sketches. Unfortunately, securing the rights to these songs today would no doubt cost roughly the Gross Domestic Product of France, so they had to be purged. Bummer. If you recall the sketches in their original form, the generic fill-in music will be jarring, though not as jarring as the blurred-out images that pop up -- an office sketch is nearly unwatchable thanks to all the blurred posters. Still, a small price to pay. I'll deal with score alterations and the deprivation of a BP gas station sign, if it gets me the glory of "The Inbred Brothers" in glorious full frame and Dolby stereo.
Everything looks up-to-snuff in the technical department, with episodes transferred well in their native full frame aspect ratio. Some of the second unit stuff looks rougher, when compared to the live studio sketches and videotaped segments, but that's due to the film stock used. Sound is adequate in its 2.0 stereo arrangement, though it would have been a lot niftier to hear some Beck during the "Pants" sketch.
The big draw, especially for long-time fans, will be the extras, of which there are plenty. Each episode features commentary by varying groups of performers. Everyone gets a shot to talk and the conversation is both insightful (they got paid $297 a week) and funny (lots of self-deprecation). Each disc features separate seasons, accompanying outtakes, and vintage behind-the-scenes interviews, which (Surprise!) are tongue-in-cheek. The fifth disc is extras-only. Here you'll get over 90 minutes of unaired sketches, some of which are pretty good and resuscitated for the VHS release The State: Skits and Stickers, most of which make it clear why they never made it to broadcast. The deleted footage features commentary, which is mostly of the embarrassed persuasion. Outtakes for these skits are also attached. Rounding out the set are a selection of appearances with the troupe doing guest spots on the incredibly dorky Jon Stewart Show, the 1996 "Shut Up and Laugh" MTV special (featuring a sophomoric, but hilarious, rendition of Hamlet), a series of funny Spring Break tips, a nonsensical Christmas Party video, and finally the promos; on most DVDs, these are largely disposable, but here they're pretty funny, especially the "Next on The State" spots.
We interrupt this review to bring you a Second Opinion
By Judge Erich Asperschlager.
Please forgive any repetition. Their Vulcan mind-link is on the fritz.
"Don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted. He lived happily ever after."
As it was with Charlie Bucket, so it will be for a lot of comedy fans on July 14, 2009. After years of begging, rumors, dashed hopes, and red tape, The State is out on DVD. I'll say it again: The State is out on DVD! Of course, real life isn't like a magical chocolate factory. For many fans, this joyous day will be bittersweet. Yes, we finally have the show we've been clamoring for, and yes, it's still plenty awesome, but sacrifices have been made. The music is different. Licensed imagery has been blurred out. And commentary swearing is bleeped, for some reason. That last one may not be a biggie, but it is another reminder that a lot of people had a hand in releasing this final product, and not all of them care what fans think.
Search for message board threads about The State on DVD and you'll find comments dating back in 2003. Promises were made and reneged upon numerous times over the past half decade. Heck, I'm sure many fans took a "wait and see" approach when this release was officially announced back in April. With stories circulating for the past year or so about the finished discs sitting in a warehouse somewhere, it's hard to blame them. We'll all forget the years of MTV dragging their feet in due time, but for now the wounds are still fresh. Fortunately, I can't think of a better way to kickstart the healing process than watching The State: The Complete Series.
When The State hit MTV in the early '90s, it was a wildly different sketch show than most of its audience had seen before. It was surreal, esoteric, and rooted in improv. Where Saturday Night Live (by then nearly 20 years old) relied heavily on recurring characters and a huge staff of writers, The State consisted of 11 people who wrote and performed everything themselves. The group voted on what would be on the show, and they cast their own sketches. Besides the occasional and obvious mandates from MTV higher-ups -- usually for more sketches featuring popular characters like Barry & Levon -- they wrote things they thought were funny. Sure, The Kids in the Hall were doing something similar in Canada, but here in the States this ragtag group of ex-New York University students were the place to go for cutting-edge TV sketch comedy.
Looking back on The State more than a decade on, it's easy to spot chinks in the show's armor. The near-mythic status awarded to The State by fans who hadn't seen it in years was both a gift and a curse. The fanatics made this release possible, but also set them up for potential disappointment. Truth is, not every sketch is a home run and, even with four seasons, there aren't many episodes. Still, it's amazing how well The State holds up. It's not exactly timeless, but peel back the dated MTV references and you'll find a solid foundation of subversive comedy. There's a reason fans quote this show ad nauseum. Like the handful of TV comedies that make me smile long before I've remembered any specific jokes, The State exists outside of the flow of disposable televised entertainment. It may only have been a blip on the comedy radar, but it paved the way for modern sketch comedy shows like Exit 57, Upright Citizens Brigade, and Human Giant. It also gave birth to State alum projects like Reno 911!, Stella, and Wet, Hot American Summer. The newest entry, Michael & Michael Have Issues, starring Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter, debuts on Comedy Central the day after The State: The Complete Series hits shelves.
As with anything that finally arrives after years of anticipation, State fans should take a leisurely approach to this Complete Series set. Savor every moment. Forget about what the music used to be. Make love to a clown. Most importantly, laugh. Then, when you're done, go back and watch it all over again. I guarantee those unpleasant memories of a world without The State will melt away, in the clear dawn of a brand new day -- or something similarly pretentious.
We now return you to Judge David Johnson's original review,
still in progress.
What? You think something like a mere digression is going to stop his fanboy drooling?!
Maybe this isn't your kind of humor. If so, do us all a favor and go back to Date Movie. You can't fool me. It's on pause right now in your living room.
Boys and girls! Not Guilty.
Review content copyright © 2009 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (CC)
Running Time: 760 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* DVD Verdict Presents... The State (podcast)