Judge Geoffrey Miller is ambiguously gay for this disc.
"If you believe in yourself, drink your school, stay in drugs, and don't do milk, you can get work!"—Mr. T
The past few years haven't been kind to Saturday Night Live. The one true breakout star the show has produced in the past decade, Will Ferrell, is long gone, and a number of the more reliable players (Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, Rachel Dratch) have departed. The current cast, at a mere eleven players, is among the smallest ever and relatively inexperienced. The topical and political sketches, once one of the show's strengths, have struggled to remain relevant while The Daily Show and The Colbert Report have grown to become both more timely and daring. Nor have there been any memorable new characters on the level of Wayne and Garth, the Coneheads, or even Mary Katherine Gallagher.
But at least there's TV Funhouse, one of the few SNL segments that has consistently delivered through the years. Created by Robert Smigel, TV Funhouse parodies classic cartoons (mostly of '60s and '70s vintage), often with vulgar results that skirt the edge of FCC standards. Skewering pop culture and political icons with equal irreverence, it has often been the highlight of otherwise dreary comedy-free shows. Saturday Night Live: The Best of Saturday TV Funhouse is an 84-minute special collecting the most memorable cartoons (along with over an hour of additional cartoons as a bonus feature).
If there's one thing Smigel is not, it's a master of subtlety. His other famous creation, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, is best known for jokes about humping and his catch phrase, "for me to poop on!" TV Funhouse follows the same lowbrow path; you're probably already familiar with its most popular characters, the Ambiguously Gay Duo. Ace and Gary (voiced by Steve Carrell and Stephen Colbert) are superheroes who are best buds…and maybe a little bit more. Yes, it's pretty much a one-note joke, and it's quite offensive (though not necessarily as homophobic as you may think). It's also really, really funny.
The other TV Funhouse segments follow a similar path, fearlessly balancing themselves on the thin line between clever and stupid. The Fun With Real Audio series takes actual manipulated recordings of political figures and celebrities, then animates new scenes around them. An impeachment-era Clinton gets his hair "gelled" a la There's Something About Mary, and Jesus is horrified at greedy television evangelists. The All New Adventures of Mr. T finds the former A-Teamer (played by Tracy Morgan) shouting out his old catchphrases incoherently while on a desperate hunt for work (even if that means hawking Kotex maxi pads).
Another frequent target is Disney, which is skewered for its practice of limited edition releases of classic movies and cheap, direct-to-DVD sequels. Funhouse pulls no punches, going so far as to manipulate footage of Disney classics. A hypothetical Bambi sequel finds the titular deer hunting down terrorists and rapping. The famed "Disney Vault," where all the Disney favorites are locked up until they're given another limited release, is the focus of another segment, which also features a new version of "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" from Song of the South with new racist lyrics.
A few of the shorts are a little past their expiration date: By the time I was able to vaguely remember the long forgotten Are You Hot? reality show that was the basis of the opening segment, it was already over. A send-up of The Anna Nicole Show with Smurfette replacing the overmedicated model meets a similar fate (although making fun of Anna Nicole Smith's drugged ramblings never gets old). The Ex-Presidents, a recurring sketch in which former Presidents fight evil, is especially dated now that two of the four are dead.
The animation itself is half of what makes TV Funhouse so enjoyable, because it's so accurate in emulating its source material. Several segments recreate the stop-motion style of Rankin/Bass holiday productions, including a dead-on parody of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Parodies of '60s Hanna-Barbera cartoons and Peanuts specials capture their stilted, low-budget charm.
Among the extras, the additional cartoons are sizable, adding up to at least as much material as there is on the main program. They're some of the funniest clips on the disc, and there are a couple of seldom-seen controversial favorites too (like Conspiracy Theory Rock, which took a few too many pot shots at NBC/GE and was pulled from subsequent repeats). There's also a commentary track full of guests and storyboard art.
Saturday Night Live: The Best of Saturday TV Funhouse stands as one of the better SNL compilations because it isn't just the highlight reel of a cast member; it's a varied collection of mostly hilarious cartoons. There's a lot of material here, much of it top-notch comedy. So if you're jonesing for a little ambiguously gay action, or just need to hear Mr. T tell you cut out the jibba-jabba, this is the disc for you.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Robert Smigel and Guests
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