Judge Erich Asperschlager wants you to remember that giants are humans, too.
"Prepare your mind…for a mind explosion!"
Unlike many sketch comics who make the jump to TV via onstage improv, Human Giant got the attention of MTV brass thanks to their popularity on the internet. Muscled in among the cat tricks and lip synch videos, Aziz Ansari, Rob Huebel, and Paul Scheer's short films gained a strong following on übersites YouTube and MySpace. With director Jason Woliner behind the camera, the group used their best material (including Criss Angel parody "Illusionators," child actor agency "Shutterbugs," and indie marketing guru "Clell Tickle") as the starting point for their first season on television—now available, uncensored, on DVD.
Facts of the Case
All eight episodes appear on disc one:
• "Mind Explosion"
• "Let's Go!"
• "Lil' 9/11"
• "Mosh Pit"
• "Ice Cream Party!"
• "Kneel Before Zerg"
• "Hello Susan"
• "Ta Da!!"
Sketch comedy fans old enough to remember things like Nirvana's Nevermind and Crystal Pepsi (well, Crystal Pepsi anyway) will likely remember a little MTV show called The State. The early '90s series was a glorious slice of absurdism that featured sketches about people eating Muppets, delivering tacos instead of mail, and winning orphans on a deceptive game show. It gave birth to later shows like Stella and Reno 911!, and feature films like Wet Hot American Summer and last year's The Ten. Given the fact that MTV is known more these days for reality shows than music, and even less for sketch comedy, a show like Human Giant can't help but be compared to its now-mythic forefather. While Giant hasn't yet reached the iconic greatness of its decade-old predecessor, this hilarious collection of episodes more than stands up to the wildly unfair comparisons of a DVD reviewer with a '90s fetish.
While it shares The State's surreal aesthetic, Human Giant pushes things further, with subject matter and language that wouldn't have made it past the censor's desk 10-plus years ago. And while the show bears similarities to past absurdist greats like Monty Python, SCTV, and The Kids in the Hall, it carves its own initials on the driver's-side door of life thanks to a unique style built on short films, cameos, and unfettered foul-mouthedness.
Where other shows dabble in filmed pieces as a way to break up sketches performed in front of a studio audience, Human Giant is nothing but short films, freeing Aziz, Rob, and Paul to try new things. The Human Giant boys film on location. They use editing tricks and special effects (except for the Illusionators, of course—those guys are totally real). The jokes rely on visuals and set-ups that wouldn't work on a traditional sketch show. "Shutterbugs" may have begun onstage at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater (as seen in the extras on disc two), but when the concept expanded to include real child actors there was no way two responsible grown men were going to tell a 5-year-old to "Get the @#&% out!" of their office without the aid of reverse shots and an editing room. Right?
Whether you saw these episodes on TV or are experiencing them for the first time on DVD, you'll notice right away why they're prominently labeled as "uncensored." Though free-flowing obscenity is common in comedy clubs and Judd Apatow films, it's still pretty new to TV. Even with shows like South Park and Chappelle's Show leading the charge, the language and sexual themes in Human Giant can be shocking if you're not prepared for it. Unlike Arrested Development, where the bleeped-out swearing was a lot funnier than actually hearing the naughty words, Giant's over-the-top style requires unshackled profanity to get the full effect. Besides, I'm not sure how a censored version of something like the foul-mouthed "Swindle Tips" wouldn't just end up sounding like an Emergency Broadcast System test. It's not for everyone, sure, but if you're going to watch Human Giant, uncensored is the way to go.
Human Giant has three cast members. The State had 11. Monty Python had six. SNL has around 3,000. It's hard to do TV comedy as a trio. That's why Human Giant relies heavily on calling in favors from friends who also happen to be world-class comedians. Some guests are instantly recognizable (Patton Oswalt, Jonah Hill, and Mary Lynn Rajskub). Some require a second take or an IMDb visit (Brian Posehn, Rob Riggle, and Linda Cardellini). And some just make you say "What the?" (ex Wu-Tang Clan rapper Ghostface Killah, for instance). Two of my personal favorite cameos come from precociousness-personified Bobb'e J. Thompson as the backflipping young boss at Shutterbugs, and voice actor H. Jon Benjamin (known best for playing Ben on Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist) as a Bruce Willis look-a-like who takes advantage of adoring birthday boy Paul Scheer.
Hamstringing the audio/video presentation by jamming all eight episodes on the first disc (more on that in a bit) does at least one good thing: it leaves plenty of room for extras on disc two. Though the bonus material isn't as great as it could have been, it's hard to complain about what we get. Disc one has the commentaries. Lots and lots of commentaries. Thirteen commentaries for eight episodes. And if you thought the cameos in the episodes themselves were impressive, prepare for a mind explosion (to quote a certain pair of long-haired goth magicians). Joining the Giants in what must have been an awesome day at the studio are director Woliner and executive producer Tom Gianas, comedian pals Bill Hader and Kristen Schaal, and guests ranging from 30 Rock's Jack McBrayer to Patton Oswalt, Mr. Show's Bob Odenkirk, Jon Glaser, and 24's Chloe, Mary Lynn Rajskub. Though the odd behind-the-scenes tidbit slips through, the commentaries are mostly a room full of comedians riffing off each other, improvising characters, and doing impressions. My favorite moment: hearing what Detroit Tigers skipper Jim Leyland has to say about "Space Lords." Brilliant.
The mother lode is on disc two, with about an hour of deleted scenes and alternate takes, two unaired Shutterbugs sketches, early versions of Shutterbugs and Illusionators (who were originally called the "Mindf***ers"), and a preview of Season Two (which began last month). The longest feature is a collection of highlights from a 24-hour period in May of 2007 when MTV turned control of its network over to Human Giant, a stunt advertised as a test to see whether the Giants could get the million Web site hits necessary to save the show from cancellation. The feature is 75 minutes of improv and semi-scripted comedy from Will Arnett, John Krazinski, Michael Cera, Nick Kroll, Tim and Eric, Michael Showalter, Fred Armisen, and Bob Odenkirk—plus musical performances by Ted Leo, The National, and Mastadon.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As much as this set tries to pack into a double-disc format, it falls just short of being a spectacular celebration of Human Giant's brilliant first season. The biggest problem is that, although the show is widescreen, the presentation is letterbox, not anamorphic. When I broke down and bought a new TV, and wasn't so I could watch sketch comedy that doesn't fill the screen. The 2.0 stereo is similarly disappointing. Maybe these technical limitations are a byproduct of shoving all eight episodes, plus commentaries, on one disc, but that's no excuse for giving a cutting-edge show such old-fashioned treatment.
Those who've seen these sketches on TV, or as they originally appeared on the internet, might notice something else about the DVD set: there's stuff missing. Forget the decision to remove the Ghostface Killah sketch from the first episode in favor of showing its re-aired iteration in episode six. If you've seen the full version of the first Shutterbugs episode online, you know there was a lot more to it than what aired, which would have been fine if they'd just added it all back to the extras. But they didn't. Sure, we get most of Jareida Ortiz and her inflatable alien, but what of Cody Austin? The original sketch had some great lines about the smiling scamp's turn as a Nazi prison guard that are sadly lost to, well, somewhere on YouTube.
Oh, and what's the deal with *****-ing out Clell Tickle's last name in episode five? It's not a swear (even if it was, this is supposed to be an uncensored set). If you watch the sketch on Human Giant's MTV web page, it's not bleeped out. What's the problem? Is there a real Clell Tickle? Is he suing MTV? Will I be named as a co-defendant for using his name in this review? Ah, shoot.
Despite technical problems that keep this set from reaching full potential, this first season of Human Giant is so good, I have zero problem recommending it. Ansari, Huebel, and Scheer are hilarious, with every indication that this is only the beginning of greatness for their show. Okay, MTV, you made your point. You can be cool if you want to. Now get off your duffs and release The State on DVD already! Whew! I'm parched. I wish I had some Crystal Pepsi.
Giant, yes. Guilty, no.
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