Judge Brett Cullum dives into a world of spies, grunge, and Gen-X humor.
Our reviews of MADtv: The Complete First Season (published November 17th, 2004), MADtv: The Complete Third Season (published August 22nd, 2013), and MADtv: The Best of Seasons 8, 9, and 10 (published January 18th, 2006) are also available.
"You are now watching MADtv!"
When it debuted back in 1995, MADtv was a bid by FOX to create the same success as Saturday Night Live or SCTV on its late night Saturday spot. It was an ensemble sketch comedy hour filmed in front of a studio audience with recurring characters and a sharp eye for satire mixed with scatological, teenage-boy humor. During the early days the shows promoted the idea of being MAD Magazine come to life with plenty of shots of Alfred E. Neuman and animated shorts showcasing Spy VS. Spy to inspire viewers to relate it to the print publication. The targets of skits were pop culture, movies, and popular TV shows, and it was all aimed squarely at a young demographic of Gen-Xers who were overdosing on grunge and apathy towards politics in the mid '90s. MADtv ran an amazing fourteen seasons until 2009, but this set is MADtv: Complete Second Season which covers the episodes from September 1996 to May 1997. This second set of discs are a long time coming for fans who had Season One released back on September 21, 2004. The reason for the long delay is that the distributors changed as Fox didn't think Season One sales warranted additional product. But here comes Shout! Factory to the rescue with all twenty-two episodes on four discs.
The cast this year included regulars such as David Herman, Phil LaMarr, Mary Scheer, Nicole Sullivan, and Debra Wilson. It was the swan song for Bryan Callen and Orlando Jones, who did not return for a third year. Artie Lange had to leave in midseason due to a drug scandal that got him fired from the program. The second year of MADtv introduced a celebrity host, which was a new concept different from the first season, and this was the only year they did it. The guest stars were never stellar in this sophomore effort, and often they were simply headliners of other FOX shows that must have been cheap and easy to book. The premiere opens with Christina Applegate (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy) and then hosts include Neve Campbell (Party of Five), Joe Rogan (NewsRadio), French Stewart (3rd Rock From the Sun), and David Faustino (Married With Children). But now and then a true legend pops up like Rodney Dangerfield, Bobcat Goldthwait, Pauly Shore, or Andrea Martin. The skits from 1996 started off with topics like the re-election of Bill Clinton with plenty of Bob Dole jokes in the first half of the season. The show remains very of-the-moment, and you will be shouting "I LOVE THE '90S!" at every turn. I was giggling at the hair and clothes almost as much as the punchlines, but those not well versed in pop culture from two decades ago might be lost at the references.
On these DVDs we are just given the episodes, but they are uncensored and include promos and bumpers that signaled commercials. Everything is here, although it all looks like TV did back in 1996 with a low fidelity vibe in both sound and vision. It is not HD nor is it widescreen, and the soundtrack seems almost mono throughout with a flat dynamic range. Pictures are not extremely clear, and there is a softness to every scene that is a testament to the technical limitations of the era. These were taken from the best masters the DVD producers could find, and you can tell some individual shows were in better shape than others. But overall this is a fairly good representation of how MADtv was broadcast and seen on old dorm TVs back in the day. I wish there were extras, but nothing is included to provide supplements beyond the unedited programs. Twenty-two episodes are spread out on four discs, and they are housed in a clamshell that is only one DVD case wide. There is a printed episode guide that gives you air date and guest host, but no other information.
MADtv: Complete Second Season is great, if you are looking for a funny time capsule of 1996 into 1997. The hair, the fashions, the music, are all here and poked fun at. The sketches are sometimes great, sometimes sorta lame, and sometimes even groan-worthy, but they always have a spunk and edge missing from Saturday Night Live of the same era. Video is spotty and sound is tinny, but this was the middle of the '90s when we expected that sort of thing from TV (FOX especially). There are no extras, but it's nice to finally see the show back for a new release after nine long years when the first set came out.
Guilty of making me remember when Pearl Jam and Bob Dole were all the rage. MADtv's second season is free to go back into the vaults of time where it came from. And take this plaid shirt with you!
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