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.
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.
Jerri: I don't think she's retarded.
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:
• "Old Habits, New Beginning"
• "A Burden's Burden"
• "Derams on the Rocks"
• "Who Wants Cake?"
• "Boogie Nights"
• "Let Freedom Ring"
• "Feather in the Storm"
• "To Be Young, Gifted and Blank"
• "Jerri is Only Skin Deep"
• "The Trip Back"
• "The Virgin Jerri"
• "Behind Blank Eyes"
• "Yes You Can It!"
• "The Goodbye Guy"
• "The Blank Page"
• "Hit and Run"
• "To Love, Honor and Pretend"
• "The Blank Stare—Part 1"
• "The Blank Stare—Part 2"
• "A Price Too High for Riches"
• "Jerri's Burning Issue"
• "Is Freedom Free?"
• "Trail of Tears"
• "Invisible Love"
• "Is My Daddy Crazy?"
• "Blank Relay"
• "Ask Jerri"
• "There Once Was a Blank from Nantucket"
• "The Last Temptation of Blank"
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.
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.
One of the most bizarre, awkward, and hilarious shows I have ever seen.
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• "The Trip Back" PSA
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