Anchor Bay // 2000 // 760 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // August 3rd, 2005
Once you've driven your drunk father to your mom's parole hearing...what else is there?
"The Los Angeles Times states that 63% of families in America are now
considered dysfunctional. That means we're the majority. We're normal. It's the
people that had the mom, dad, brother, sister, little white picket fence...those
people are the freaks!"
-- Christopher Titus
Christopher Titus and his family are not normal people. They are screwed-up to an extent that would terrify and frighten normal people. Normal people don't know how good they have it. When the rapture comes and the apocalypse is nigh, and all the normal people lose their minds? The screwed-up people will come out of their homes, calmly survey the destruction, and notice that nobody is guarding the Lexus dealership.
Welcome to the Emmy-nominated dysfunctional world of Titus. Introducing:
* Christopher Titus (Christopher Titus, Norman Rockwell Is
Titus lives in a perpetual state of dysfunctionality. Raised by an alcoholic womanizing father and a manic-depressive schizophrenic mother, he has seen it all. Now in his late twenties, he owns a hot rod shop, has a fantastic relationship that he tries not to mess up, is a recovering alcoholic and tries desperately to gain the approval of his father, who thinks of him as a wussy.
* Erin Fitzpatrick (Cynthia Watros, The Drew Carey Show, Guiding
While she's demure on the surface, Erin is Northern Irish, which means if she gets mad at you, she puts a bomb in your car. She is Titus's girlfriend, and adores him -- he is her white knight, the man who will save her from her crazy dysfunctional family...by making her a part of his crazy dysfunctional family. She is also the only one who has any power whatsoever over Papa Titus, a fact Titus is constantly grateful for.
* Dave Titus (Zack Ward, a.k.a. the red-haired bully from A Christmas
A red-haired freckled burnt-out surfer kid, Dave's mother abandoned him with Papa Titus when he was a young boy. Forced to raise the errant boy as one of his own, Dave grew up with Titus as his partner-in-crime, though Titus spent most of the time bailing Dave out of trouble. Still living with Papa Titus, Dave works at Titus High Performance as a painter, has an obsession with Asian women, and is the bane of what few brain cells Titus has left.
* Tommy Shafter (David Shatraw, Girlfriends, The West Wing)
Titus's "normal" friend, Tommy is an effeminate hypochondriac worrywart and lives in perpetual chaos, constantly second-guessing his actions and solving problems with food. As Papa Titus puts it, Tommy isn't a fruit...he just hangs out in the orchard. Despite growing up hanging around the Titus family, Tommy isn't a screwed-up person...yet.
* Ken "Papa" Titus (Stacy Keach, Mike Hammer, The Ninth
As Christopher puts it, "My dad's from that era when you lived to fifty, your heart exploded, and that was that. You know when you cook bacon and you pour the grease into the can? My dad's the can!" A hard-drinking, smoking womanizer extraordinaire, Papa Titus has survived five divorces, an endless parade of cheap women, hundreds of thousands of beers, and millions of cigarettes -- and completely destroyed the emotional well-being of his children...all wussies. Despite this, he never missed a car payment or a mortgage payment, or failed to take care of his family.
Titus: Seasons 1 & 2 containing all 33 episodes from the first and second season, packed nicely onto six discs:
* "Dad Is Dead"
When Dave notices that he hasn't seen Papa Titus come out of his room in over four days, he starts to suspect the worst. Titus is skeptical, until he realizes that Dad has gone four days without beer...and that he must be dead!
* "Sex With Pudding"
When Titus suspects his girlfriend Erin is having an affair, he raids Erin's office with Tommy and Dave, ready to crack some skulls. However, he soon finds things are slightly more complicated than they appear...and how easy it is to accidentally take hostages!
* "Dave Moves Out"
When Titus convinces Dave to move out of Dad's house and sneak his possessions out in the night so Dad won't find out, Papa Titus has Dave arrested for stealing his piece of crap VCR. When Titus arrives down at the police station to bail out his brother and explain the situation, he inadvertently becomes an accomplice to the crime!
* "The Breakup"
Titus is freaked out how perfect Erin is and how smooth and problem-free their relationship has become, and decides to sabotage things a little so that he has something to fix. Unfortunately, he sabotages things a little too well, and ends up finding solace in the warm groin of a total stranger...
* "Titus Integritous"
The boys at Titus High Performance are elated to be selling their newest hot rod creation to a dot-com millionaire, and eagerly await the big stinking check. But when the client decides he wants a big, ugly spoiler on the back, Titus's professional and personal integrity soon start to interfere.
* "Red Asphalt"
On the way to Dad's birthday party, Titus gets cut off on the freeway by a bad driver. After overtaking him, Dave cheerfully gives him the finger. Suddenly, Titus and company find themselves doggedly chased up and down the freeway...by a gun-toting maniac!
* "Mom's Not Nuts"
Titus's manic-depressive schizophrenic mother gets released from the mental institution and stops by to make Thanksgiving dinner. Titus, armed with a baseball bat, refuses to let his guard down for even a split second...even when the rest of the family gradually lets Juanita back into their lives.
Concerned about his recent behavior, the family gathers around Papa Titus for an intervention...an intervention to get him to start drinking again. Christopher, alarmed at his father's rapid decline into sobriety, wants his father to admit he has a "non-drinking problem."
* "Episode Eleven"
Titus rushes to the hospital after Papa Titus has a heart attack and crashes his car...only to find his father furious, blaming Titus for causing it! Devastated, Titus tries everything in his power to get back into his father's good graces...until the police show up, and shows Titus the traffic camera photos of the car crash...and the hooker on her knees in the front seat.
* "Titus Is Dead"
After Titus gets his father so upset that he actually causes him a heart attack, Papa Titus cuts Titus out of his life completely, leaving Titus at a loss how to proceed in life without his abusive father. Worse, the nurse Titus hires to take care of his father begins to have a decisively non-professional relationship with her patient, much to the horror of the family.
* "The Test"
Titus is down for a pint of blood to help his father recover from his heart attack, so he, Erin, Dave, and Tommy descend to the hospital to donate. However, during a routine AIDS test, Titus's tests come back inconclusive...
* "The Surprise Party"
A surprise party for Papa Titus's evil new fiancée turns into a surprise "moving Nurse Kathy into the house" party. While Erin and Dave are ready to burn Kathy's possessions before ever helping her move in, Titus has an even more sinister plan...the nicer they are to her, the more Dad will hate her!
* "What's Up, Hollywood?"
After tricking out his father's pickup truck, the most unexpected thing happens...Papa Titus loves it, and compliments Christopher on a job well done. Frightened beyond belief, Titus refuses to accept the compliment, convinced his father will return any moment to berate and break his confidence.
* "Locking Up Mom"
Titus and company head down to the insane asylum to testify in his mother's competency hearing. With every intention of testifying to put his mother away for life, Titus is alarmed by his father's absence from the proceedings, and without his guidance soon finds his resolve swaying...
* "The Perfect Thanksgiving"
The Fitzpatrick and Titus families meet for Thanksgiving, during which Erin and Titus plan on announcing their engagement. However, when the police arrive to break up the battle royale, Erin decides their families are too messed up to ever coexist and breaks off the engagement to Titus.
* "Tommy's Girlfriend"
When Tommy's ex-girlfriend (Mad TV's Nicole Sullivan) comes back to town, Titus suggests that Tommy casually run into her in the parking lot and strike up a conversation. Tommy, overly exited, takes this advice too literally, and rams his car into her car...repeatedly. Luckily, he leaves a note...and signs Titus's name to it! Tommy has a good reason for doing so, of course. Titus doesn't know about the restraining order.
* "The Reconciliation"
When Titus's mother stops by with her new boyfriend for dinner, Titus reaches for the trusty baseball bat. However, when his mother seems totally well-adjusted, content -- and even, dare he say it, happy -- Titus starts to grow uneasy...
* "Last Noelle"
When Titus's violent abusive ex-girlfriend dies, he puts in an appearance at her wake, just to confirm that she is in fact dead. He tries to keep this a secret from Erin, who knows nothing about Titus' tumultuous past with his violent ex. Erin, of course, finds out in about 10 seconds.
* "Sunday! Sunday! Sunday"
Titus High Performance takes their latest hot rod creation to a custom car show, eager to have their name noticed by industry bigwigs. But when a magazine wants to interview the team, Titus hogs the spotlight and takes credit for the entire car...much to the ire of Dave and Tommy.
* "When I Say Jump"
Titus and Dave partake in some base-jumping off a local bridge, until a fellow jumper suffers a fatal accident. Mortified, Erin forbids Titus to jump again, but Titus refuses to heed her warnings. Erin decides the only way to make Titus realize the danger is to jump herself...and suddenly Titus finds himself "reconsidering" the merits of the sport.
* "Episode 27"
Ken asks Titus to be his best man during his wedding, which has Titus rolling around in ecstasy. But when Ken's fiancée puts the clampdown on Titus's speech and nominates her own father to be best man, Titus decides once and for all to stick it to Nurse Kathy, which may have the unfortunate side-effect of destroying his father's engagement altogether!
* "The Smell Of Success"
When a magazine comes out depicting Titus High Performance as clownish buffoons, clients call en masse to cancel their business. Dismayed and depressed, Titus turns to an old friend...Jack Daniels. Heartbroken, Erin tells Titus that she will leave him if he starts drinking again. Titus keeps drinking.
* "Deprogramming Erin"
After lighting his fake straw girlfriend on fire during a drunken stumble (don't ask), Titus decides to sober up and put his life back together. First step: get Erin back. Erin, however, is boarded up in the Fitzpatrick home and refuses to even speak to Titus. Obviously, Titus has no other recourse but to kidnap her, stuff her in a burlap sack and "deprogram" her.
In an attempt to get Titus and Ken to bond and get closer, Erin orchestrates an elaborate ruse. The result: father and son alone together in a transport truck, driving across the country, plotting revenge against the woman who tricked them into spending "quality time" with one another.
* "Life Forward"
Against his will, Erin and Tommy drag Titus to a motivational speaker seminar, lead by Jerry October (David Hyde Pierce, Frasier). Titus is nonplussed by the claptrap and calls his father to rescue him. But when Ken shows up, he has a few lessons of his own for the motivational speaker, and soon finds himself in command of the crowd...
* "Gift of the Car Guy"
In an effort to revitalize his business, Titus sells Erin's car without telling her in order to purchase a drag-racing funny car. Tensions mount when Erin shows up at the shop, trying to get to work. When Titus offers to drive her, Erin vehemently refuses, which raises Titus's suspicions about Erin's current employment...
* "Tommy 's Girlfriend No. 2"
Tommy takes his friends out to dinner to meet his new girlfriend...who just happens to be the waitresses Titus had a one-night affair with during a hiatus with Erin. Hilarity ensues.
* "Hard Ass"
In an effort to rescue her niece from her crazy family, Erin volunteers to let Amy stay with her and Titus, so she can get some strong guidance and leadership. Titus tries approaching fatherhood the same way his father did -- as a hard-ass -- only to realize that Amy is a lot tougher than she appears. Also, she carries a stun gun.
* "Private Dave"
When Dave discovers a "Dear John" note from his girlfriend, he goes to hang himself in the bathroom of the bus station and leaves Titus a suicide note. Titus rushes over to the station only to find that Dave joined the army instead. But after Dave and his girlfriend reconcile, it is up to Titus to figure out how to get Dave out of the army...if only to prevent him from inadvertently starting World War III out of sheer stupidity.
* "Three Strikes"
When a burglar breaks into the Titus house, Erin ends up falling down and breaking her leg. Titus comes home and immediately calls the cops, blaming Erin's brother (who has slightly fewer felonies than a New Jersey mobster). After having her brother arrested, Erin is furious, claiming her brother's innocence, but Titus refuses to yield. This gets more difficult when he discovers the real burglar is still in the kitchen.
* "The Pit"
Titus takes his drag racer to the racetracks, and Titus High Performance ends up squaring off against Jay Leno's crew. Papa Titus is jealous at his son's success, and begs to be allowed to assist Team Titus. Taking his father's advice, Titus makes some adjustments to the fuel mixture ratio...with explosive and disastrous results!
* "The Pendulum"
After crashing his drag racer and exploding quite badly, Titus lays in the hospital, in a coma. Trying to respect his son's wishes, Papa Titus tries to pull the plug, but Erin refuses to allow him anywhere near Titus. She vows that when Christopher recovers, he will be out of Papa Titus' life forever...and Papa Titus finds himself experiencing an emotion unfamiliar to him...guilt!
* "The Wedding"
Erin and Titus, after trying to plan a seating chart for their wedding and realizing the impossibility of having both families in the room at the same time, sneak off to the church to elope. But when Dave and Tommy get wind, soon everyone in town knows...and the church begins to fill up horrifically with loved ones. Worse, Titus's crazy mom shows up; and instead of bringing a gift, she brings a handgun...
"It was just a joke!"
"Ha ha! Jesus was laughing when I went into the light."
"He was laughing because you were trying to get into Heaven!"
Christopher Titus took his entire life, all the good and the bad -- but mostly the bad -- and turned it into a sitcom. This is not to say that he took elements of his personality and placed it into a fictionalized setting; rather, he actually took events that transpired from his childhood and adulthood and made them into episodes. The episode where he drove his drunken father to his mother's parole hearing? That happened in real life. The episode where his mom shot somebody at his wedding? That happened too. And all the anecdotes about his drunk, abusive, berating, womanizing father? Oh yeah, you'd better believe they're all true. It takes a serious sense of humor to come out on national television and air your dirty laundry for the sake of comedy.
The show's laughs may emanate from Chris Titus's wonderfully self-deprecating sense of humor, but the true brilliance of the show lay in its marvelous ability to make hilarious the issues that the average drama manipulates for tear jerking. Alcoholism, death, and abuse are all funny here, as well as womanizing, mental illness and infidelity...and that only covers the first six episodes. A show so upfront and ballsy could have easily backfired in horrible fashion -- and probably resulted in some civil lawsuits to boot -- but Titus pulls it off with consummate ease and grace. It makes the most sinister of subjects so absurdly hilarious and effortless that one barely registers the moral contradiction. These are the subjects that fuel dysfunctional family dramas, and one is normally accustomed to feeling bad about them, not laugh hysterically. But laugh you will!
As a sitcom, the show had two gimmicks going for it that separated it from the pack in terms of presentation. The most obvious is the use of the grey "neutral space," the introspective room where Titus speaks directly to the viewer and allows creative hyperbole to wreak havoc. Imagine combining the fourth-wall breaking confessionals of Malcolm In The Middle with the opening monologue of Seinfeld and you would almost be on the right track, but not really. Titus took the concept and expanded it into something of a mock confessional. In the grey space, Titus bitches, moans, complains, cheers, sulks and lets the viewer in on his deepest and darkest secrets, usually acted out in stand-up comedy bits that rapidly descend into stream-of-consciousness rants. In addition, magic realism rules in a vaguely Ally McBeal-esque fashion; Titus gets struck by arrows, falls off chairs, gets attacked by sharks, struck by lightning, you name it. In the grey space, anything can happen.
The second gimmick is more subtle and understated; and in fact, I admit I had no idea of until listening to the commentary track. One of the microscopic things I actually disliked about the show, especially coming back to it after a few years, was the laugh track. After watching shows like Arrested Development and seeing how well an absurdist black comedy could hold its ground without the guffaws in the background, I had a hard time readjusting to the canned laughter...until I discovered that the laughter was not canned at all. In fact, the entire show was structured, presented and shot as a play, live to tape in front of an audience, usually in a single take. Episodes are almost entirely self-contained onto a single set, and the actors go through their lines as if performing to an audience (which they are). When the show "cuts" away to the neutral space or to play a flashback clip, the actors simply pause, count out the appropriate amount of time, and jump right back into the narrative, letting the audience howl along to the material on the monitors.
The devilish combination of both these devices allows Titus to communicate with the audience both indirectly and directly. By staging the show as a play to a live crowd, the audience is able to react to the unfolding show with genuine feeling, without the terribly structured and laconic rigors that normally accompany television productions...the endless takes, the endless takes, the repeated breaks, the endless takes, the set changes, etc. By keeping the show on a continuous shoot, the audience becomes a part of the show as true audience members. In addition, the grey space allows Titus to break the fourth wall and speak directly to the viewer, further enhancing the experience of self-confession and intimacy. The ultimate result? A show full of genuine laughs never touched up by a computer, and one that retains the gleeful dynamic and confessional aspect of Titus's self-deprecating stand-up routines.
But one man does not a show make. Yes, Christopher is fantastic in the part of himself, his range as an actor surprisingly deep, but Titus also has assembled a fantastic motley crew of a cast that integrates so effortlessly into Titus's material that you actually believe they might seriously be related to him in real life. From his fussy and frantic friend Tommy to his idiotic brother Dave, from his drop-dead gorgeous girlfriend Erin to his gruff, drunken (yet oddly likeable) father, the cast is simply perfect. Ken Titus in particular is one of the most dynamic, hateful/loveable characters ever conceived for television, and one that could only have stemmed from the bizarre oddity that is real life. Flagrantly abusive, politically incorrect to the point of being an arrestable offense, full of vice and sin, he is the antithesis of all television fathers, something not seen since the glory days of Archie Bunker in All In The Family. As Titus says, "A salamander can grow a new tail in three weeks...my dad can score new tail in three minutes." According to Christopher on the commentary track, after watching Stacy Keach audition for the role of his father, alarmed, he looked to the producers and said, "He scares the @#$% out of me!" Stacy instantly got the part.
Fox first presented Titus to the masses as its typical blue-collared Fox sitcom: an abusive, beer-drinking hot-rod show full of promotional shorts that almost seemed to unconsciously groom the show as the new Married With Children. In my opinion, this unfairly categorized the show in the minds of the general public and prevented a lot of people who would absolutely have loved the show's black, dry and sardonic sense of humor from ever discovering its joys. Too often, I mention Titus as one of the funniest television shows in the last 10 years, and people give me an odd disapproving look, like I'd just admitted I had leprosy. After a few minutes of grilling, I always discover the vast majority of these people had never bothered watching the show. Judge not, ye vast unwatched masses, for Titus is seriously hilarious, deeply dysfunctional, and yet oddly touching and moving. I have never met a single person who, after being force-fed a few episodes, has had anything but raving compliments for the show afterwards.
Now, as for the presentation aspect of Titus: Seasons 1 & 2. Visually, the transfer to DVD is a strong one, with solid black levels, a well-balanced color tone, and no noticeable defects. Earlier episodes have heavier grain and a visual inconsistency from one episode to the next, but this problem improves as the series progresses, especially in the second season, where the visual quality improves dramatically. While I would stop short of calling the presentation spectacular, it is solid and well-rounded all around; not exactly flashy, but never lacking.
Audio fares the same...a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo presentation is all we get, which in theory is slightly underwhelming, but the track is of high enough quality to stand on its own. Balanced bass, modest volume level, decent distribution between channels, and clear dialogue make the track more than sufficient in presentation and tone. A surround track would have been nice, but I can be happy with this.
When I heard that Anchor Bay was releasing Titus on DVD, I had horrible flashbacks to the Hercules and Xena box sets, massive fold-out form factors behemoths thicker than a dictionary. Thankfully, Anchor Bay has kept with the times and released this six-DVD set in three smarmy slim-line cases, much to the delight of my ever-dwindling shelf space.
Extra feature include three breezy audio commentaries with Christopher Titus and creators Brian Hargrove and Jack Kenny, clearly at ease and enjoying their time in front of the microphone. It would have been nice to see more episodes with commentary tracks, especially with the rest of the cast, but c'est la vie. Far more impressive is "Hard Laughs," an all-new 30-minute interview with Titus discussing his life, his upbringing and his early stand-up comedy material (including some incredibly old stand-up footage from the Norman Rockwell Is Bleeding material, including the rickety wooden chair). Titus is incredibly upfront and vocal about his life, which makes for great extra material, though the documentary contains a great deal of episode clip footage. We also get one lousy Fox promo (which is a total rip-off, since the network aired dozens) and about nine minutes of hilarious rehearsal footage, an amusing behind-the-scenes look at how the show comes together.
The only outright criticism I can offer for Titus: Seasons 1 & 2 are the total absence of subtitles, a fairly thin collection of extra material, and the DVD "greeting" by Christopher Titus that precedes the first disc in which he cracks jokes about DVD technology coming from aliens crashing in Roswell. Mildly amusing the first time, it becomes staggeringly unfunny on subsequent viewings, but luckily can be skipped with a simple remote press.
Woe, woe, woe to the exceptional Fox television shows that ultimately meet an untimely end, shuffled endlessly between time slots before being unceremoniously dumped in the back alley of the studio. Sadly, this list is ever-growing by leaps and bounds with every crappy reality television show that hits the airwaves. At least Titus managed to eke out three seasons, far more than most shows get these days.
I really have nothing bad to say about this show, truly and sincerely. Titus is one of the best sitcoms in recent memory, both during its original run and on DVD today. My only observation is that I sincerely hope the third (and final) season makes its way to DVD as well. Too many television shows these days get a season or two released on DVD to "test the waters," and unless they sell well, you can forget about seeing subsequent seasons.
So go out and buy this DVD set, or I'll show up at your house. With a bat.
Titus is fantastic television that was both funny and deeply personal, an introspective and ludicrous dysfunctional family comedy unmatched on the airwaves during its run. If you have not had the pleasure, now is the perfect opportunity to experience one of the darn funniest sitcoms in recent memory.
Cheers to Anchor Bay for releasing Titus: Seasons 1 & 2 on DVD and doing a darn good job of it. Jeers to Fox for not releasing the show on DVD themselves...and canceling the show in the first place. And...well, something else that I can't think of. But, ooh, are they ever guilty.
First you rent it, then you watch it, then you love it, and then you buy it. Take my advice: skip the first step and jump right to the last. You won't be sorry.
Review content copyright © 2005 Adam Arseneau; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 760 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Audio Commentary on "Dad's Dead," "The Breakup," and "The Last Noelle" with Creators Christopher Titus, Brian Hargrove, and Jack Kenny
* "Hard Laughs" -- All-New Interview with Christopher Titus
* Titus Promo
* Rehearsal Footage