Comedy Central // 2003 // 300 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // December 11th, 2003
Seriously *%&@$%-up sketch comedy.
The Upright Citizens Brigade exists only to breed chaos, to destabilize the status quo. They have no government ties and unlimited resources. It is their mission to run rampant through ordered civilization, seeking only to undermine it, and along the way provide bouts of insanity.
In 1998, the Upright Citizens Brigade (Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, Amy Poehler, and Matt Walsh) stormed Comedy Central, bringing with them sketch comedy of a different beast -- a severely, mentally disturbed, strait-jacketed beast.
The UCB's trademark style was an improvisational tactic called "The Harold," which takes a handful of sketches, runs a common thread through them (usually in the form of the UCB themselves plotting in their secret lair), and ties it all up at the end, often in a final sketch. This technique actually came into play in a meta-episode fashion, with season one, in each show, featuring references to the musical group "Titte' Brothers," who at the final sketch, made a triumphant entrance.
Season 1 provides an eclectic mix of straight-up insanity, with each of the four cast members assuming multiple roles throughout, and some memorable moments (e.g., The Bucket of Truth, the gentleman with a penchant for placing pennies where the sun don't shine, prejudice towards astronauts, and the infamous "Little Donnie Foundation," which defies adequate explanation).
All ten episodes of Season One are present on the two-disc set, and represent the obvious commitment Comedy Central has toward bringing its cult, but short-lived, series to the digital medium.
As a big fan of whacked-out sketch comedy, I was pleasantly surprised with the Upright Citizens Brigade. This was the first time I had been exposed to them, and found the troupe provided some fine, if uneven, material. Some sketches elicited bouts of laughter, others I sat, stone-faced.
For example, I found the first episode, "Bucket of Truth," funny throughout, but I barely cracked a smile in "The Lady of the Lake." And among the individual episodes, I thought this on-again off-again success rate was prevalent.
Of course, this is the world of sketch comedy, where hit-and-miss is the name of the game. How many times have I sat through an entire dose of Saturday Night Live, yearning for a more amusing activity, like spackling?
But taken as a whole, I think the Upright Citizens Brigade's maiden-voyage came out on the positive side. Personal favorites: the architectural firm specializing in "hyper-minimalism," the unlucky astronaut's plight and the meaning of SC-200, the friendship forged between the Unabomber and the Girl Scout, and the poor schmo and his unlucky run with fortune cookies.
Each UCB player brings a degree of energy and skill that works well (most notably Besser and Poehler, who can currently be seen on SNL). I also noticed the UCB uses far more special effects than any other sketch comedy series I recall; granted, on a shoestring cable series budget, the effects come off as fairly "hyper-minimalist" themselves, but applause for the effort.
The set provides much in the way of bonus materials, including some funny commentaries for the episodes "The Bucket of Truth," "Power Marketing," "Cyborgs," and "The Little Donnie Foundation." You also get some live footage of the UCB Theater in New York City, including the pilot episode "Time Machine," "Little Donnie," and the "Andre the Giant" song.
All in all, with the nifty packaging, the cornucopia of extras, and often-hilarious (but sometimes not so much) material, this first UCB exhibit is a successful, non-stop goof-fest. I anticipate forthcoming editions.
(Author's Note: Before this is all said and done, I need to put out my plea to MTV to release another great, insane sketch comedy show on DVD -- The State; come on people, this one is no-brainer.)
I have to say that there is one glaring pain-in-the-butt problem -- no sketch-to-sketch chapter selection within the episodes. Perhaps because of the ultra-fragmentary nature of the show, this feature proved too difficult to include, but having to scan around to find highlights and favorite bits was very agitating. See the Monty Python's Flying Circus DVDs as examples on how to do this successfully.
For fans of irreverent, off-the-wall sketch comedy, this is a must. But no doubt, the Upright Citizens Brigade is a select taste, so others may want to tread warily.
Comedy Central and the UCB are free to destabilize as much of the status quo as they see fit.
Review content copyright © 2003 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Comedy Central
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Audio Commentaries
* Live Footage
* UCB Pilot Episode
* Deleted Scene
* UCB Trailers
* Comedy Central Spots