Judge Daniel MacDonald comes out in favor of this talk show. Comes out? Get it?
The funniest moments from the first three years.
A rising-star stand-up comedian throughout the 80s, Ellen DeGeneres was called the "funniest person in America" by Showtime. She then became a household name with her first sitcom, Ellen, which ran from 1994-98. After the cancellation of that show, Ellen appeared in small roles in a handful of movies and starred in a second sitcom in 2001 that failed to catch on. But after receiving wide acclaim for her voice work as Dory in 2003's Finding Nemo, DeGeneres launched Ellen: The Ellen DeGeneres Show, which has been the recipient of 15 Daytime Emmy Awards, including "Outstanding Talk Show" three years' running.
Taking its cue format-wise from The Late Show With David Letterman, Ellen features an opening monologue, showing its host still retains her stand-up comedy chops, then moving into celebrity interviews and fieldtrips. It's a light-hearted, kind show that never strays into Oprah-style histrionics. She exudes a real affection for her job and for the people she interviews, a feeling that appears to be mutual. And while I'm sure it's mostly scripted, moments of spontaneous, off-the-cuff zaniness often make the show feel fresh and real. You're never quite sure what DeGeneres will do next, whether it's break into dance (she has an on-set DJ for just these occasions) or crawl into a guest's lap, but you'll likely be entertained.
This two-disc DVD collection features about 20 segments of celebrity chat and trips beyond the studio, most of which will make you laugh at least once. The premiere episode, showcases Ellen's attempt to create a more relaxed, self-deprecating tone from other daytime TV options, featuring amusing dream sequences of how her interview with Jennifer Aniston (The Break-Up) could have gone wrong. From there, we move into one of several clips of Steve Martin (Shopgirl) demonstrating his wide-ranging talents, including card tricks, juggling, and playing a mean banjo.
The segment featuring Will Ferrell (Old School) is funny but runs on a little long; it's a skit with Ferrell unexpectedly showing up on a Saturday to tape an interview, interrupting Ellen's golf plans and forcing her to conduct the session with only once crew member in low lighting and no studio audience. But Ferrell still thinks everything is normal. Similarly, when DeGeneres takes Gwyneth Paltrow (Shakespeare In Love) on a walking tour of a Los Angeles neighborhood, using a bullhorn to promote her upcoming film and entering unsuspecting people's homes to show off the trailer, it is quite funny for a while, but the joke wears thin before it's over.
The show doesn't focus exclusively on celebrities, though, and neither does this DVD. DeGeneres showcases a few cute kids, including a young boy who is an anatomy expert with a surprising vocabulary, and a piano prodigy who, very seriously, tells a couple of great jokes. Ellen does a segment on-location at Lenscrafters, and tours New York to award a prize to the person with the smallest apartment (which goes to a woman who seems to be living in a converted broom closet inside a ritzy apartment building). These clips give a nice cross-section of the show's appealing format, and it's a credit to DeGeneres that they are just as funny and entertaining as the Hollywood chats.
Running about an hour and 15 minutes, the DVD provides more laughs than a lot of sitcoms or comic films, and moves along at a fast enough clip never to become boring. While not every joke is successful, Ellen's eagerness and affable personality makes you appreciate the effort all the same. Guests ranging from John Travolta (Saturday Night Fever) to Justin Timberlake (Edison Force) seem to be having a good time with the host, and viewers likely will too.
The second disc in the set features about 25 minutes of monologues taken from the beginning of selected episodes. These put DeGeneres in her natural element, and feature some of the funniest material in the program. While it's referred to as a bonus disc, this is probably the material, if any, that you'll go back and watch a second time.
I was surprised, and suspect the show's fans will be too, that no dancing segments are featured save for when Timberlake appears; it's a pretty regular occurrence for Ellen to call for a beat and start busting out some moves, and while I can't say I necessarily missed it, dancing is a such big part of Ellen's persona that I fully expected that to be represented here.
Technical specs are the same as what you see on TV, broadcast-quality full frame video and 2-channel stereo sound. There are no extras to speak of other than the monologue disc.
If you're a fan of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and would like to review some of the highlights from the first three years, this set should fit the bill. I can't say it has a lot of rewatchability, for me anyway, but it'll at least put a smile on your face the first time around.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Monologue Disc
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