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Case Number 16289: Small Claims Court

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The Dana Carvey Show

Shout! Factory // 1996 // 210 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // May 4th, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Victor Valdivia was also cancelled before his time. Damn ratings.

The Charge

"I vill laugh about zat sketch for the next three days!"
"It made you laugh, but it also made you zink!"
—"Germans Who Say Nice Things"

The Case

A look at the credits of The Dana Carvey Show reads like a listing of some of the most important and influential figures in comedy today: in the cast, alongside Carvey were Steve Carell (The Office) and Stephen Colbert (The Colbert Report), amongst others. On the writing staff were Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich), Robert Carlock (30 Rock), Dino Stamatopoulos (Moral Orel) and Louis C.K. (Life With Louie), with additional contributions by Greg Daniels (The Office) and Bob Odenkirk (Mr Show), all supervised by writer/producer Robert Smigel (Saturday Night Live). It was on this show that Smigel first premiered The Ambiguously Gay Duo and that Colbert first appeared as a blowhard TV pundit.

In other words, The Dana Carvey Show was way ahead of its time. It was so far ahead, in fact, that it couldn't possibly fit in the rather timid landscape that was primetime TV in 1996. At a time when ripping off Seinfeld was considered the height of cutting-edge comedy, it seems inconceivable that a sketch show this scabrous and surrealistic could have possibly aired in the days well before Comedy Central made cutting-edge comedy accessible to the mainstream. In a singularly misguided decision, ABC, which aired the program, scheduled it as the follow-up to Home Improvement, the epitome of bland, middle-of-the-road TV fare. Viewers who tuned in expecting to see Wayne and Garth and gentle pokes at George Bush were shocked by the premiere episode's opening sketch, in which Carvey played Bill Clinton suckling various animals from spurting nipples. The rest of the show only built from there. Naturally, controversy erupted, viewers and critics were outraged, and ratings began to fall. After only seven episodes aired, the series was cancelled.

Over the years, however, The Dana Carvey Show developed a considerable cult following, one that only grew as the careers of the show's ex-staffers skyrocketed. Shout! Factory has finally released the eight episodes originally filmed, including the final episode that ABC never aired, on a two-disc set. Fans who wondered if it was worth the wait needn't worry. There's plenty of great funny material here. Even then, it was easy to recognize both Carell's and Colbert's enormous talents. Not only are both men gifted at characterizations, it also turns out that they are both skilled at celebrity impersonations, a talent they never really got a chance to show off in their subsequent work. The writing is also sharp—if anything it's sharper than what SNL was doing at the time. The show takes on targets as diverse as Quentin Tarantino, Oliver Stone, and Howard Stern, while also delivering some unbelievably dark humor. The sketch on deranged homeless men who are paired up to make their ramblings into a conversation is pure Charlie Kaufman, while "Grandma the Clown," in which an elderly woman unhurriedly ties balloon animals and takes an extremely slow pie in the face, is reminiscent of the equally lamented Ben Stiller Show.

In fact, for all that Carvey was frequently dismissed as rather milquetoast and old-hat, the show has some of the most Dadaist humor seen since the glory days of Monty Python's Flying Circus. In addition to "Germans Who Say Nice Things," in which Carvey and Carell scream out loving compliments in Colonel Klink accents, there are random bits involving Fabio eating peanut butter while watching TV, First Ladies barking as dogs, and various world leaders taking baths. Carvey is also cheerfully subversive with his sponsors. Each episode is titled after its main sponsor, as in "The Taco Bell Dana Carvey Show," "The Mountain Dew Dana Carvey Show," and so on. However, Carvey also takes the time to begin each show with an elaborate musical routine that ridicules each product. He even adds a hilariously gratuitous sketch during the Mountain Dew episode that pointedly, if subtly, compares Mountain Dew to urine.

There are a few weaknesses. Like all sketch shows, The Dana Carvey Show does tend to rely on topical humor that can sometimes date badly. The endless riffs on the '96 Republican presidential primary seems a bit quaint; compared to today's truly bizarre GOP talking heads, Bob Dole and Steve Forbes seem more like goofball clowns than serious targets of satire. Also, the routines on the O.J. trial fall flat. Since the show doesn't really have a single black member in its cast (although James Stephens III appears on a couple of episodes), most of these sketches are fairly clichéd satires of the media, even if Colbert does get to show off a surprisingly good Geraldo Rivera impression. Still, even if the show does suffer from the unevenness and datedness that haunts all sketch comedy, the batting average is generally so high that it's worthy of respect.

Shout! Factory has presented The Dana Carvey Show in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio along with a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix, and it looks and sounds fine, as far as video transferred onto DVD goes. However, consumers should note that the first episode, "The Taco Bell Dana Carvey Show," is not complete. Taco Bell apparently was less than thrilled with the episode's content and ordered several references to its products edited out, although cast members dressed as giant tacos are still visible. It's too bad the DVD producers couldn't find the original unedited show, but the cuts don't do too much damage to the overall episode. The extras are not bad. There's a reel of "Deleted Scenes" (12:18), with some additional funny bits that weren't included in the original broadcasts. The real meat, though, are the "Interviews with Dana Carvey and Robert Smigel" (21:18), in which Carvey and Smigel discuss how the show was conceived, how they hired the cast and writers, and why it was cancelled. It's an excellent interview, and though it would have been nice to have a commentary or two, this will suffice.

Even with its flaws, The Dana Carvey Show is still a must for fans of the performers and writers involved, and anyone interested in witty and creative sketch comedy. While it's a shame that the show was canceled before its time, this collection is a great way to rediscover it. Highly recommended.

The Verdict

German #1: The Dana Carvey Show ist nicht guilty!
German #2: Ja! Und Shout! Factory has done a gut job presenting it on DVD!

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 90

Perp Profile

Studio: Shout! Factory
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 210 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Comedy
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Deleted Scenes
• Interviews


• IMDb

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