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Case Number 10110

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Stella: Season One

Comedy Central // 2005 // 215 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // October 4th, 2006

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All Rise...

This series is so weird, Judge David Johnson can't think of a smarmy blurb to do it justice.

Editor's Note

Our review of Stella: Live In Boston, published September 24th, 2009, is also available.

The Charge

"I take my coffee like I take my women: strong, black, and proud."
—Michael Ian Black

Opening Statement

Three of my homeboys from MTV's The State grab the spotlight in this Comedy Central incarnation of "Stella," the three-man live comedy show.

Facts of the Case

Michael Ian Black, David Wain, and Michael Showalter are the three comedians who originally forged Stella as a stage show eight years ago. Actually, these guys met and made their debut in the national consciousness on MTV in the early '90s as part of the sketch ensemble The State, a collection of NYU grads who crafted bizarre skits and lasted two seasons MTV (before flaming out following a horridly rated CBS Halloween Special).

The State alumni managed to move onto other things with varying degrees of success (e.g. Reno 911!), and Michael, Michael, and David eventually ended up together for Stella and this one (and only) season of surreal sketch comedy, which documents the bizarre adventures of three grown men who live in an apartment together and wear suits. Season one features 10 episodes from 2005:

Disc One
• "Pilot"
• "Campaign"
• "Office Party"
• "Coffee Shop"
• "Paper Route"

Disc Two
• "Camping"
• "Meeting Girls"
• "Novel"
• "Vegetables"
• "Amusement Park"

The Evidence

What an insane show.

I have mixed reactions to this series. I'm torn between my loyalty to the actors and my affection for their roles in bringing me The State and the hugely underrated Wet Hot American Summer and the fact that Stella is wildly uneven. It has its moments, and when the material scores, the result is riotous gut laughter. But flanking some of that inspired material are gags that are either too weird, too contrived, or simply too unfunny. Basically, when the jokes flop, they flop hard; when they work, they soar.

That being said, I will admit that Stella is a show that will grow on you, if of course you dig that State/Wet Hot American Summer absurdist humor. And absurdity is taken to the extreme, with such plot devices as the guys performing impromptu open heart surgery, opening rival coffee houses on the fly, growing crops in their apartment, buying fake moustaches from Sam Rockwell, killing and eating mountain men, and standing up to a 10-year-old bully after running down their paperboy.

Of the three, Michael Ian Black will probably garner the most recognition as the perennial "I Love the '80s" fanboy, though Showalter has shown up in leading roles in Wet Hot American Summer and The Baxter. Wain is typically behind the camera, directing. Each brings a distinct personality to their weirdo characters, though Black's stuff usually works the most, with Showalter plagued sometimes by far-out voice-work and Wain by over-the-top gesticulations. Supporting the guys is a surprising number of guest stars including Ed Norton, Josh Charles, Topher Grace, Paul Rudd, Sam Rockwell, Janeane Garofalo, and State-ers Ken Marino, Joe LoTruglio, and Kevin Allison.

As the credits rolled on the final episode of the season (and series—Comedy Central has not renewed the show), I was left with that same mixed feeling: the show certainly improved its standing with me as it progressed, and I found myself laughing more frequently at the later shows than the earlier ones, as I got acclimated with the humor. In the end, I think you have to be a fan of that certain type of humor to really get into the show. Did you like The State? If so, I think you'll like Stella a lot more than a noob.

Each episode gets a commentary from the guys and they're actually pretty funny. Other bonus materials include a very good, 45-minute feature called "The History of Stella, where the guys rip on each other and reminisce about their days at NYU, MTV, and beyond; some deleted scenes; a blooper reel; and Comedy Central Presents: Stella, offering a glimpse at the stage show.

Closing Statement

Weird. Subversive. Sometimes hilarious. Weird. That's Stella, and while it's not for everyone, those of you who are into this kind of bizarre humor will dig it. About as hot and cold as a comedy series I've seen.

The Verdict

Not guilty according to this judge, but the appeals court could have grounds to reverse the decision.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 85
Audio: 85
Extras: 85
Acting: 80
Story: 80
Judgment: 81

Perp Profile

Studio: Comedy Central
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 215 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Comedy
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Audio Commentary by Stella
• "The History of Stella"
• "Comedy Central Presents: Stella"
• Deleted Scenes
• Blooper Reel
• Trailers
• Comedy Central Quickies


• Official Site

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