Judge Patrick Bromley says, "Don't get MAD, just...well, don't get MAD."
Our reviews of MADtv: The Complete First Season (published November 17th, 2004), MADtv: The Complete Second Season (published March 27th, 2013), and MADtv: The Complete Third Season (published August 22nd, 2013) are also available.
Go ahead. Get MAD!
I've held a theory for some time that watching the Fox network's late-night sketch show, MAD TV, is a lot like watching the variety show of a high school I've never attended: an entire audience seems to be cheering for characters I'm not familiar with and laughing at things I don't recognize as funny. Not just that I don't find it funny, mind you, but that I don't even understand how it could be funny. Sketch after sketch, I seem to be left out of the joke. It's a lonely endeavor, this MAD TV.
The feeling didn't go away while watching Warner Bros.' new release of MAD TV—The Best of Seasons 8, 9 & 10—I remain a stranger in a strange land. Much of this probably results from my own biases, as I've never been one for recurring-character comedy. I was seldom amused to see how many different situations SNL could plug Molly Shannon's sociopathic schoolgirl character, Mary Katherine Gallagher, into—always with the exact same results. "Debbie Downer" is funny once, but week after week? Not so much. And though MAD TV seems to pride itself on the being the more cultish, edgier (it is on Fox, after all) of the two Saturday night sketch shows, it seems to adopt a similar, don't-fix-what-ain't-broke policy. That means that this Best of compilation gets not one, not two, but three sketches centered on Stuart, the insufferable helium-voiced man-child creation of the show's go-to man, Michael McDonald (Slackers). The gag of Stuart, I think, is that he's odd and inappropriate, and that his mother (played by Mo Collins of The 40-Year Old Virgin) is odd and alcoholic. I think. As for McDonald, he's clearly the star of the show, showing a great deal of versatility but no real range—every character hits the same annoying note. For those who would argue that Will Ferrell is overrated, I give you McDonald.
Out-there characters seem to be the show's specialty these days, so the disc is primarily populated by sketches that demonstrate this. In addition to a number of "Stuart" sketches (which, for the life of me, I can't figure out what the studio audience is reacting to), we get Angela, an annoying and spastic teenager chasing George W. Bush; Dot, an annoying and spastic adolescent competing in a spelling bee; Mofaz, an annoying and obnoxious foreign cab driver; Lorraine, an annoying and completely surreal older gal-geek; Bae Sung, an Asian man who doesn't understand English; Ms. Swan, an Asian woman who doesn't understand English…get the idea? Toss in endless pop-culture spoofs (the trademark of the show's…um…"literary" roots), and you've got MAD TV's entire bag of tricks.
My biggest problem with MAD TV, though, isn't its too-heavy reliance on unfunny character repetition (though one could make a case that that would be reason enough not to like a sketch comedy show); it's the focus of the writing. Not only does just about every sketch go on three times longer than it ought to (sure, SNL is guilty of the same thing, but MAD TV's raises the inability to end a sketch to a kind of art form), but I'm often not even sure what the joke is supposed to be. Take an extended riff on the TV show Lost, for example; aside from spoofing the premise and some of the characters, what about Lost are we meant to find funny? Or is the mere fact that it's being referenced enough? Even when Jeff Probst, host of the reality craze Survivor shows up, the sketch is unable to find a real joke. I guess we're just supposed to think it's funny that one guy from a TV series shows up on another series. And that they both have jungles. That's the best I can come up with. You'll understand if it doesn't crack me up.
That kind of laziness is indicative of a number of the series' pop-culture spoofs. A knock on those incessant Fanta commercials ("Wanta Fanta? Don'tcha Wanta?") unnecessarily adds a fourth, obese girl and fails to capitalize on just how omnipresent and infuriatingly catchy those awful commercials are. An extended bit in which American Idol contestants (played by cast members) interact with characters from the The O.C. (played by the actors themselves) fails to find anything to say about either of the two shows. In fact, it seems awfully similar to the Lost sketch I just described. Apparently, the writers of MAD TV find great humor in TV crossovers. A sketch like "Oprah Winfrey: Fat Cam," on the other hand, works because it has something to say—it's not just referencing Winfrey, but mocking the Talk Show Queen's vanity and put-on compassion. That it's supported by Debra Wilson's (Girl 6) spot-on impression helps considerably.
The cast in general seems quite talented and more than game; the females are particularly strong, and, unlike on Saturday Night Live (which has its best female cast in years, but continues to sideline all but Amy Poehler), are actually allowed to shine. It's too bad, then, that this DVD fails to showcase much versatility from the gals; both Mo Collins and Stephnie Weir, who combined appear in more than half of the sketches featured on the disc, seem to be playing multiple variations on the same character. And, because of the spoof-heavy nature of MAD TV's comedy, a number of cast members prove to be gifted impressionists; John Madden, George W. Bush, Ellen Degeneres, and Shaquille O'Neal are among those accurately skewered. Of course, the impressions are seldom organically incorporated, but rather included because a given cast member had it in his or her arsenal. I guess it wouldn't be MAD TV otherwise.
Warner Bros.' release of MAD TV—The Best of Seasons 8, 9 & 10 is pretty unspectacular. Both the full frame video and stereo audio presentations are just fine, but the set is lacking just about everywhere else. As far as extras go, the only inclusion is roughly six minutes of "Stuart bloopers," which consist of Mo Collins breaking character and laughing at something Stuart does (in defense of both the actors, one break does inspire some back-and-forth ad-libbing that's funnier than anything scripted in the sketch). The blooper reel can also be played with commentary by Michael McDonald, the actor who plays Stuart and whose insights shed little light on the character's confounding popularity. Even the presentation of the feature itself is a missed opportunity; the sketches can be played individually, all together, or divided up by season with a throwaway graphic card announcing which year it is. There not even any opening or closing credits, making it impossible to see who's in the cast in a given season.
I'm not exactly sure why Warner Bros. has opted to release this particular disc. They've previously released MAD TV—The Complete First Season, so why the decision was made to go with this Best of collection, rather than the logical complete-second-season follow-up, confuses me greatly. I actually own and have watched the show's first season, which I purchased mainly for the Babe-inspired Baywatch sketch made legendary by first-year cast member Artie Lange on The Howard Stern Show. I was surprised to find that it wasn't all that bad; the writing wasn't terribly sharp, but it was a good deal of fun and made for a passable alternative to Saturday Night Live. I don't see those qualities in The Best of Seasons 8, 9 & 10. I remain outside of MAD TV, hearing the studio audience laugh for reasons I don't understand. I want to laugh, too, but am left scratching my head, wondering what all the fuss is about.
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