Comedy that makes you think
For the toddler set, he's Mr. Conductor on PBS' Shining Time Station and the voice of the narrator on Thomas the Tank Engine. For the Gen-Xers, he'll always be Rufus from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. For the Baby Boomers, he's Al Sleet, the hippie-dippy Weatherman from The Ed Sullivan Show. It's not hard to see why this man is a national treasure.
Recorded live at the Beacon Street in New York, Back in Town is one in a long line of George Carlin HBO specials. For those unfamiliar with Carlin, the man is a genius. His observations on politics, religion, pop culture, and the human condition rise above and beyond the norm of standup comedy. While others ridicule and cut down high profile people and events, Carlin goes a step further, illuminating the inconsistencies and idiocy of life, offering up his own solutions to the world's problems. Be forewarned—Carlin is not a prude. His language is raw and delivery raucous, but his intelligent and insightful material will make you think. How many of today's standup acts can claim to do that?
Despite everything that has happened in the world since this show first aired in 1996, Back in Town's material is eerily relevant to life today. Right out of the gate, Carlin dives headfirst into the empty swimming pool of Abortion—"For humans we call it an abortion, but for chickens it's called an omelet. Are we that much better than chickens? When's the last time you heard of a chicken coming home and beating the crap out of his hen?" From there, it's a short backstroke over to The Sanctity of Life—"Somebody better tell the Catholic priests to keep their hands off the altar boys. When Jesus said 'Suffer the little children come unto me' that's not what he was talking about!" With religion out of the way, he dries off and heads over to the bar for Capital Punishment—"You wanna stop the drug wars? Forget about going after the dealers. Let's start executing the white, American bankers who launder the drug money." As cocktail hour ends, Carlin heads into the dining room for dinner where the entrée is State Prison Farms. Here Carlin predicts the power of reality television with his plan to remove the four most destructive elements of society while raising enough money to balance the federal budget. It's simple really: evict everyone from the states of Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, and Kansas and turn them into prison farms for violent criminals, sex offenders, drug addicts, and alcoholics (only those making life difficult for others), maniacs and crazies. Put it all on live cable TV with sponsors and for seven seconds a month allow them interact and watch the fireworks. For dessert, we kick back and delve deep into Carlin's frenetic psyche for a taste of Farting in Public—"What would a comedy show be without fart jokes?," Familiar Expressions—"'Down the tubes.' What tubes? Where are these tubes? Where do they go? And why has nobody ever seen them?," and Free-Floating Hostility—"One hour photo! How can anyone be nostalgic over something that just happened?!"
Presented in 1.33:1 full frame format, the presentation is classic television. Nothing here will impress your technical sensibilities, but then again it's really not supposed to. MPI does a nice job of preserving the image's colors and blacks without any digitally enhancing interference. The Dolby 2.0 stereo audio track is serviceable, capturing Carlin's every utterance and even the occasional overzealous outbursts of several intoxicated audience members. No bonus features here (points off for that), but we are given animated and musically enhanced menus. While there isn't much to navigate, the effort is appreciated. Perhaps at some point, MPI might consider doing a Carlin retrospective, capturing his best bits along with a tribute to this legendary writer, actor, and performer.
Granted, George Carlin is an acquired taste for some. However, take a chance and listen to what the man has to say. In a quick 60 minutes, he cuts through the crap and gets to the real point of many hot button issues. You may not agree with him, but you have to respect the man for his perceptiveness. As an added bonus, he enables you to laugh at yourself, your family, your friends, and your neighbors. Let's face it, we can all benefit from taking life a little less seriously. Case dismissed!
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