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Case Number 09571

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Strangers With Candy: The Complete Series

Comedy Central // 1999 // 660 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // June 27th, 2006

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All Rise...

Do not lock eyes with Judge Adam Arseneau. It puts him on edge. He might come at you like a whirling dervish, all fists and elbows. You could be screaming, "No, no, no!" But all he'll hear is, "Who wants cake?" And believe us, he wants cake.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Strangers With Candy: The Complete Third Season (published October 13th, 2004), Strangers With Candy (published November 20th, 2006), Strangers With Candy: Season One (published July 17th, 2003), and Strangers With Candy: Season Two (published May 27th, 2004) are also available.

The Charge

Jerri: I don't think she's retarded.
Noblet: Really, Jerri? Well, why don't you take a closer look? But be careful. If she catches on, she may fly into a rage where she would have the strength of an ape and no remorse. Not even a bullet would bring her down.

Opening Statement

Not merely twisted, but actually bent at right angles, Strangers With Candy is the kind of show that flies so low under the radar that it smashes into a power transformer and knocks the power out in your neighborhood for two weeks. Sexist, racist, homophobic, retardophobic (yep), and pretty much supporting any other prejudice you could think of, Strangers With Candy pulls fewer punches than Mike Tyson at a church picnic.

Previously available in single installments, Strangers With Candy: The Complete Series consolidates the three previous season releases in redesigned packaging, along with new supplementary features, timed to coincide with the release of the Strangers With Candy feature film. Like all box sets, this re-release might rankle the ire of devoted fans who have been buying up the sets along the way.

Of course, if that's the only thing that rankles your ire about Strangers With Candy, well, then you are a stronger person than I.

Facts of the Case

For a more detailed breakdown, we humbly suggest to sample our reviews of Strangers With Candy: Season One, Strangers With Candy: Season Two, and Strangers With Candy: The Complete Third Season, all of which have been previously resided over here at DVD Verdict. The majority of the content in this release has not changed from its previous incarnations, so those verdicts still stand.

Flatpoint High (home of the Concrete Donkey) has a new student this year: the ex-junkie, ex-alcoholic, ex-donkey show star Jerri Blank (Amy Sedaris), a 46-year old loser, boozer, and user looking to start her life off where she last left it when she dropped out of high school. This time around, though, Jerri finds high school to be just as socially awkward and challenging as she remembered it.

Between the sexually transmitted diseases, ratting out her classmates as retarded, fighting tooth and nail for popularity, killing the occasional classmate, and the occasional stint in prison, Jerri has a lot to learn about growing up. Meanwhile, her teachers Mr. Jellyneck (Paul Dinello), the effeminate art teacher, and Mr. Noblet (Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report, The Daily Show), the mean-spirited, erroneous history teacher, start up a sexual tryst, but try and keep it secret from Principal Blackman (Greg Hollimon), the health-conscious, egotistical, and maniacal dictator-for-life of Flatpoint High.

Strangers With Candy: The Complete Series contains all 30 episodes from the show's three-season run:

Season One

• "Old Habits, New Beginning"
Jerri uses her knowledge of drugs in order to become popular, killing a cheerleader and her pet turtle in the process.

• "A Burden's Burden"
In order to teach students the responsibility of taking care of a baby, Coach Wolf gives each student a baby.

• "Derams on the Rocks"
Jerri's starring role in the school play stirs up a dangerous cocktail of jealousy and regret in her stepmother, Sara.

• "Who Wants Cake?"
Jerri is told she must help Principal Blackman out by turning snitch and rooting out the school retard if she wants to go on the class trip to Good Time Island.

• "Boogie Nights"
Jerri falls for a transfer student and later discovers the terrible secret that will keep them apart forever.

• "Let Freedom Ring"
Flatpoint High is up in arms to find out "whodunit" after someone scrawls a racial slur on the wall.

• "Feather in the Storm"
Jerri finds her calling on the debate team, but can she make it through the dangerous physical training for the big competition?

• "To Be Young, Gifted and Blank"
Noblet discovers that Jerri is a violin prodigy and ruthlessly grooms her to become the star he always wanted to be.

• "Jerri is Only Skin Deep"
Desperate to become homecoming queen, Jerri concocts some unique strategies to eliminate the competition.

• "The Trip Back"
Jerri reverts back to her old ways and succumbs to drugs in an attempt to win the affection of a beautiful female stoner.

Season Two

• "The Virgin Jerri"
Jerri reclaims her virginity and fights her animal instincts as a date with a notorious cherry popper threatens to end her mission of purity before it has even begun.

• "Behind Blank Eyes"
Jerri falls for an ambitious blind boy named Alan who, despite staunch opposition from the school, aspires to play football for Flatpoint High.

• "Yes You Can It!"
During Career Week at Flatpoint, Mr. Jellineck quits to follow his dream of being a painter, while Jerri tries to discover just what her dreams are.

• "The Goodbye Guy"
The Blanks are stricken with a death in the family and Jerri must learn how to deal with the loss of an important figure in her life.

• "The Blank Page"
With dreams of becoming a cheerleader, Jerri attempts to learn how to read and overcomes the shame of her illiteracy.

• "Hit and Run"
Jerri and Mr. Noblet must deal with intense guilt after playing a part in a horrible hit-and-run accident that has robbed Mr. Jellineck of his most prized possession: his own face.

• "To Love, Honor and Pretend"
The lines of reality begin to blur during a fake marriage exercise in health class led by Coach Wolf and Mr. Jellineck, who act as an example of a "good marriage" for students, including a clueless Jerri, to follow.

• "The Blank Stare—Part 1"
Looking for love in all the wrong places, Jerri drops out of Flatpoint High and joins a freaky cult.

• "The Blank Stare—Part 2"
The Flatpoint faculty kidnap Jerri in a desperate attempt to deprogram her from a cult clone back into a high school drone.

• "A Price Too High for Riches"
When an expensive sneaker takes Flatpoint by storm, a financially-challenged Jerri learns that sometimes money is a girl's best friend.

Season Three

• "Jerri's Burning Issue"
Jerri learns the hard way that "chlamydia is not a flower," just in time for the big school dance.

• "Is Freedom Free?"
Jerri's nude self-portrait ignites a censorship showdown at Flatpoint High.

• "Trail of Tears"
Jerri must confront her racist views when a secret from her past reveals surprising news about her heritage.

• "Invisible Love"
Jerri learns the key to self-respect: keeping your boyfriend happy while making out with him in a trash can.

• "Is My Daddy Crazy?"
Jerri learns the value of sanity when Stew, her mom's meat man, goes nuts.

• "Blank Relay"
Jerri tries to boost her track performance and gets trapped in a sordid world of steroid abuse.

• "Ask Jerri"
When Flatpoint High turns to Jerri for an advice column, Jerri turns to sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll.

• "There Once Was a Blank from Nantucket"
When Jerri finds herself the victim of sexual harassment, she must decide whether to put out, put up, or shut up.

• "Bully"
Jerri and Jellineck have close encounters of the school bully kind.

• "The Last Temptation of Blank"
The final episode, Jerri falls in with the cool crowd as part of a makeover bet, while Flatpoint High is slowly turned into a strip mall.

The Evidence

If you have ever been unfortunate enough to hear your parents having sex and felt that terrible creeping sense of awkwardness spread across the back of your spine, then you should know exactly what to expect from Strangers With Candy. To a first-time viewer, Strangers With Candy probably isn't even funny at first. You would spend the first few episodes in stunned disbelief, the brain trying to sort out the conflicting sensory information. Is the show funny? Disturbing? Idiotic? A bewildering combination of all three topped up with incomprehensibility and a terrible disregard of politically correctness?

An ironic sendup of the afterschool special format, Strangers With Candy is hyperbolic satire so pungent it actually causes temporary blindness. It inhabits the body of a sitcom the way a hamburger inhabits the body of a hungry weekender, chewed up and digested beyond all recognition. Like Twin Peaks, Strangers With Candy has a painfully sarcastic level of surreal absurdity to it, a play on the illusion of wholesome, all-American normality that actually belies the twisted, rotten, dysfunctional underbelly beneath. Even the show's theme song gives the illusion of a show reeking in wholesomeness, masquerading as an afterschool special about a loving family who enjoys church, picnics, and spending time together. Of course, in Strangers With Candy, such a family would probably be running a meth lab out of their basement.

Horrible things have been done to Amy Sedaris in the makeup chair to transform her into the coked-out, aged, hunched, scowling, and twitchy Jerri Blank. Kudos to Sedaris for being prepared to do absolutely anything required to get a laugh, even if it means self-deprecating herself to the point of no return. With most of the primary cast being old Second City Chicago alumni, Sedaris, Colbert, and Dinello are old working pals, having collaborated for many years prior to conceiving the madness that is Strangers With Candy. As such, all cast members come pre-oiled, the cogs of the comedy machine spinning effortlessly.

There is absolutely nothing I can say to sell Strangers With Candy to someone, because the sense of humor is make-or-break. Horribly offensive, terribly politically incorrect, sexist, racist, disgusting, macabre, sarcastic, and often just plain wrong, no subject is safe from its laconic thrashings. It alternates between genuinely wholesome and stunningly offensive, with irreverent anecdotes about the retarded going into berserker mode and coming at you like a whirling dervish, all fists and elbows. Anyone who likes their humor safe and comfortable tied up in a sanitary bow should steer clear of Strangers With Candy, for it is the iceberg on which your innocence will crash and sink into the icy sea.

But is it funny? Oh, god damn, you better believe it.

So what's changed this time around from the previous releases? Not much. The audio and video presentations are identical to the previous sets; overall, they're decent for television, but early episodes suffered from a general lack of fidelity. Built from equal parts innovation and irritation, the packaging for Strangers With Candy: The Complete Series comes in a triangular cardboard packaging designed to simulate a three-ring binder stuffed with yearbook memories and school notes, with discs "stuck" onto each page, seemingly floating in space. Points for style, but good luck getting it to stand up straight on a shelf or close properly.

The only real selling point to Strangers With Candy: The Complete Series, especially those vying to upgrade is the new supplementary material. The set includes all the special material that was originally contained on the individual releases (see our previous reviews), with some new additions thrown in for good measure.

So what's new? An actual public service announcement called "The Trip Back" about, you guessed it, an ex-junkie going back to school to tell everyone not to make the same mistakes she made. Rumor has it Sedaris used to do a mean impression of the lady and things just went downhill from there. The original filmstrip presentation from Noblet and Jellineck's "research trip" is included in its entirely, which is funnier than words in the English language can express. Fourteen deleted scenes have been dug out of the archive for good measure, as well as two never-before-seen director's cuts of "Trail of Tears" and "Is My Daddy Crazy?" For cast interviews, we get some on-the-set interviews with the primary cast, as well as an interview with artist Ward Sutton. Not bad.

One thing I am curious about is the cast commentary, nine episodes of which get the special duty from Amy Sedaris, Stephen Colbert, and Paul Dinello. It stands to reason that the original commentary tracks have been preserved from the original discs, but from my count, at least one commentary track (my guess, on "The Last Temptation of Blank") must be new, since only eight episodes in the previous releases had tracks. Since I do not have the original discs on hand to compare to, take this observation with a grain of salt.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Is this set worth purchasing for those who have already acquired all three seasons on DVD? Tough to say. Yes, the packaging is spiffy, albeit impractical at times, but more importantly, the set is stuffed to the brim with extra material not found on the original releases. For completions and extreme collectors, the lure of new material is the siren song that crashes your bank account into the rocky shores of fiscal deficit, but for the average fan, an upgrade is a tougher sell.

I say go for the upgrade. Most likely, you could sell your old sets off and use the profits to purchase Strangers With Candy: The Complete Series outright, which nets you everything you had before and more. I'm all for win-win situations. Plus, considering the wealth of extra materials and the three seasons worth of episodes, the set has a relatively comfortable price point.

Closing Statement

An afterschool special gone awry, Strangers With Candy is awkward and halting, like a brick wall across the freeway. Abandon all political correct hope all ye who enter here, for once you have visited Flatpoint High, you'll never see the world the same way again. Hopefully, you'll learn something about yourself along the way.

For example, I learned never to have sex with my own son. Good advice.

The Verdict

One of the most bizarre, awkward, and hilarious shows I have ever seen.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 88
Audio: 90
Extras: 75
Acting: 87
Story: 91
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile

Studio: Comedy Central
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 660 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Comedy
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• "The Trip Back" PSA
• Original Filmstrip Presentation from Noblet and Jellineck
• Fourteen Deleted Scenes
• Never-Before-Seen Director's Cuts of 2 Episodes
• On-Set Interviews with Jerri Blank, Geoffrey Jellineck, Chuck Noblet, and Principal Blackman
• Interview with Artist Ward Sutton
• Audio Commentary on Nine Episodes by Amy Sedaris, Stephen Colbert, and Paul Dinello
• A 44-Minute Interview with Cast at The Museum of Television & Radio
• Original Unaired Pilot
• Blooper Reel
• Storyboard Animation
• Dance Sequence Compilation

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