The only way to tell Judge Adam Arseneau bad news is to write it on a piece of paper, tie it around a brick, and hurl it through his window. Of course...now he's armed with a brick.
Once you've driven your drunk father to your mom's parole hearing…what else is there?
"The Los Angeles Times states that 63% of families in America are now
considered dysfunctional. That means we're the majority. We're normal. It's the
people that had the mom, dad, brother, sister, little white picket
fence…those people are the freaks!"
Facts of the Case
Christopher Titus and his family are not normal people. They are screwed-up to an extent that would terrify and frighten normal people. Normal people don't know how good they have it. When the rapture comes and the apocalypse is nigh, and all the normal people lose their minds? The screwed-up people will come out of their homes, calmly survey the destruction, and notice that nobody is guarding the Lexus dealership.
Welcome to the Emmy-nominated dysfunctional world of Titus. Introducing:
• Christopher Titus (Christopher Titus, Norman Rockwell Is
• Erin Fitzpatrick (Cynthia Watros, The Drew Carey Show,
• Dave Titus (Zack Ward, a.k.a. the red-haired bully from A Christmas Story)
• Tommy Shafter (David Shatraw, Girlfriends, The West
• Ken "Papa" Titus (Stacy Keach, Mike Hammer, The Ninth Configuration)
Titus: Seasons 1 & 2 containing all 33 episodes from the first and second season, packed nicely onto six discs:
• "Dad Is Dead"
• "Sex With Pudding"
• "Dave Moves Out"
• "The Breakup"
• "Titus Integritous"
• "Red Asphalt"
• "Mom's Not Nuts"
• "Episode Eleven"
• "Titus Is Dead"
• "The Test"
• "The Surprise Party"
• "What's Up, Hollywood?"
• "Locking Up Mom"
• "The Perfect Thanksgiving"
• "Tommy's Girlfriend"
• "The Reconciliation"
• "Last Noelle"
• "Sunday! Sunday! Sunday"
• "When I Say Jump"
• "Episode 27"
• "The Smell Of Success"
• "Deprogramming Erin"
• "Life Forward"
• "Gift of the Car Guy"
• "Tommy 's Girlfriend No. 2"
• "Hard Ass"
• "Private Dave"
• "Three Strikes"
• "The Pit"
• "The Pendulum"
• "The Wedding"
"It was just a joke!"
Christopher Titus took his entire life, all the good and the bad—but mostly the bad—and turned it into a sitcom. This is not to say that he took elements of his personality and placed it into a fictionalized setting; rather, he actually took events that transpired from his childhood and adulthood and made them into episodes. The episode where he drove his drunken father to his mother's parole hearing? That happened in real life. The episode where his mom shot somebody at his wedding? That happened too. And all the anecdotes about his drunk, abusive, berating, womanizing father? Oh yeah, you'd better believe they're all true. It takes a serious sense of humor to come out on national television and air your dirty laundry for the sake of comedy.
The show's laughs may emanate from Chris Titus's wonderfully self-deprecating sense of humor, but the true brilliance of the show lay in its marvelous ability to make hilarious the issues that the average drama manipulates for tear jerking. Alcoholism, death, and abuse are all funny here, as well as womanizing, mental illness and infidelity…and that only covers the first six episodes. A show so upfront and ballsy could have easily backfired in horrible fashion—and probably resulted in some civil lawsuits to boot—but Titus pulls it off with consummate ease and grace. It makes the most sinister of subjects so absurdly hilarious and effortless that one barely registers the moral contradiction. These are the subjects that fuel dysfunctional family dramas, and one is normally accustomed to feeling bad about them, not laugh hysterically. But laugh you will!
As a sitcom, the show had two gimmicks going for it that separated it from the pack in terms of presentation. The most obvious is the use of the grey "neutral space," the introspective room where Titus speaks directly to the viewer and allows creative hyperbole to wreak havoc. Imagine combining the fourth-wall breaking confessionals of Malcolm In The Middle with the opening monologue of Seinfeld and you would almost be on the right track, but not really. Titus took the concept and expanded it into something of a mock confessional. In the grey space, Titus bitches, moans, complains, cheers, sulks and lets the viewer in on his deepest and darkest secrets, usually acted out in stand-up comedy bits that rapidly descend into stream-of-consciousness rants. In addition, magic realism rules in a vaguely Ally McBeal-esque fashion; Titus gets struck by arrows, falls off chairs, gets attacked by sharks, struck by lightning, you name it. In the grey space, anything can happen.
The second gimmick is more subtle and understated; and in fact, I admit I had no idea of until listening to the commentary track. One of the microscopic things I actually disliked about the show, especially coming back to it after a few years, was the laugh track. After watching shows like Arrested Development and seeing how well an absurdist black comedy could hold its ground without the guffaws in the background, I had a hard time readjusting to the canned laughter…until I discovered that the laughter was not canned at all. In fact, the entire show was structured, presented and shot as a play, live to tape in front of an audience, usually in a single take. Episodes are almost entirely self-contained onto a single set, and the actors go through their lines as if performing to an audience (which they are). When the show "cuts" away to the neutral space or to play a flashback clip, the actors simply pause, count out the appropriate amount of time, and jump right back into the narrative, letting the audience howl along to the material on the monitors.
The devilish combination of both these devices allows Titus to communicate with the audience both indirectly and directly. By staging the show as a play to a live crowd, the audience is able to react to the unfolding show with genuine feeling, without the terribly structured and laconic rigors that normally accompany television productions…the endless takes, the endless takes, the repeated breaks, the endless takes, the set changes, etc. By keeping the show on a continuous shoot, the audience becomes a part of the show as true audience members. In addition, the grey space allows Titus to break the fourth wall and speak directly to the viewer, further enhancing the experience of self-confession and intimacy. The ultimate result? A show full of genuine laughs never touched up by a computer, and one that retains the gleeful dynamic and confessional aspect of Titus's self-deprecating stand-up routines.
But one man does not a show make. Yes, Christopher is fantastic in the part of himself, his range as an actor surprisingly deep, but Titus also has assembled a fantastic motley crew of a cast that integrates so effortlessly into Titus's material that you actually believe they might seriously be related to him in real life. From his fussy and frantic friend Tommy to his idiotic brother Dave, from his drop-dead gorgeous girlfriend Erin to his gruff, drunken (yet oddly likeable) father, the cast is simply perfect. Ken Titus in particular is one of the most dynamic, hateful/loveable characters ever conceived for television, and one that could only have stemmed from the bizarre oddity that is real life. Flagrantly abusive, politically incorrect to the point of being an arrestable offense, full of vice and sin, he is the antithesis of all television fathers, something not seen since the glory days of Archie Bunker in All In The Family. As Titus says, "A salamander can grow a new tail in three weeks…my dad can score new tail in three minutes." According to Christopher on the commentary track, after watching Stacy Keach audition for the role of his father, alarmed, he looked to the producers and said, "He scares the @#$% out of me!" Stacy instantly got the part.
Fox first presented Titus to the masses as its typical blue-collared Fox sitcom: an abusive, beer-drinking hot-rod show full of promotional shorts that almost seemed to unconsciously groom the show as the new Married With Children. In my opinion, this unfairly categorized the show in the minds of the general public and prevented a lot of people who would absolutely have loved the show's black, dry and sardonic sense of humor from ever discovering its joys. Too often, I mention Titus as one of the funniest television shows in the last 10 years, and people give me an odd disapproving look, like I'd just admitted I had leprosy. After a few minutes of grilling, I always discover the vast majority of these people had never bothered watching the show. Judge not, ye vast unwatched masses, for Titus is seriously hilarious, deeply dysfunctional, and yet oddly touching and moving. I have never met a single person who, after being force-fed a few episodes, has had anything but raving compliments for the show afterwards.
Now, as for the presentation aspect of Titus: Seasons 1 & 2. Visually, the transfer to DVD is a strong one, with solid black levels, a well-balanced color tone, and no noticeable defects. Earlier episodes have heavier grain and a visual inconsistency from one episode to the next, but this problem improves as the series progresses, especially in the second season, where the visual quality improves dramatically. While I would stop short of calling the presentation spectacular, it is solid and well-rounded all around; not exactly flashy, but never lacking.
Audio fares the same…a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo presentation is all we get, which in theory is slightly underwhelming, but the track is of high enough quality to stand on its own. Balanced bass, modest volume level, decent distribution between channels, and clear dialogue make the track more than sufficient in presentation and tone. A surround track would have been nice, but I can be happy with this.
When I heard that Anchor Bay was releasing Titus on DVD, I had horrible flashbacks to the Hercules and Xena box sets, massive fold-out form factors behemoths thicker than a dictionary. Thankfully, Anchor Bay has kept with the times and released this six-DVD set in three smarmy slim-line cases, much to the delight of my ever-dwindling shelf space.
Extra feature include three breezy audio commentaries with Christopher Titus and creators Brian Hargrove and Jack Kenny, clearly at ease and enjoying their time in front of the microphone. It would have been nice to see more episodes with commentary tracks, especially with the rest of the cast, but c'est la vie. Far more impressive is "Hard Laughs," an all-new 30-minute interview with Titus discussing his life, his upbringing and his early stand-up comedy material (including some incredibly old stand-up footage from the Norman Rockwell Is Bleeding material, including the rickety wooden chair). Titus is incredibly upfront and vocal about his life, which makes for great extra material, though the documentary contains a great deal of episode clip footage. We also get one lousy Fox promo (which is a total rip-off, since the network aired dozens) and about nine minutes of hilarious rehearsal footage, an amusing behind-the-scenes look at how the show comes together.
The only outright criticism I can offer for Titus: Seasons 1 & 2 are the total absence of subtitles, a fairly thin collection of extra material, and the DVD "greeting" by Christopher Titus that precedes the first disc in which he cracks jokes about DVD technology coming from aliens crashing in Roswell. Mildly amusing the first time, it becomes staggeringly unfunny on subsequent viewings, but luckily can be skipped with a simple remote press.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Woe, woe, woe to the exceptional Fox television shows that ultimately meet an untimely end, shuffled endlessly between time slots before being unceremoniously dumped in the back alley of the studio. Sadly, this list is ever-growing by leaps and bounds with every crappy reality television show that hits the airwaves. At least Titus managed to eke out three seasons, far more than most shows get these days.
I really have nothing bad to say about this show, truly and sincerely. Titus is one of the best sitcoms in recent memory, both during its original run and on DVD today. My only observation is that I sincerely hope the third (and final) season makes its way to DVD as well. Too many television shows these days get a season or two released on DVD to "test the waters," and unless they sell well, you can forget about seeing subsequent seasons.
So go out and buy this DVD set, or I'll show up at your house. With a bat.
Titus is fantastic television that was both funny and deeply personal, an introspective and ludicrous dysfunctional family comedy unmatched on the airwaves during its run. If you have not had the pleasure, now is the perfect opportunity to experience one of the darn funniest sitcoms in recent memory.
Cheers to Anchor Bay for releasing Titus: Seasons 1 & 2 on DVD and doing a darn good job of it. Jeers to Fox for not releasing the show on DVD themselves…and canceling the show in the first place. And…well, something else that I can't think of. But, ooh, are they ever guilty.
First you rent it, then you watch it, then you love it, and then you buy it. Take my advice: skip the first step and jump right to the last. You won't be sorry.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Audio Commentary on "Dad's Dead," "The Breakup," and "The Last Noelle" with Creators Christopher Titus, Brian Hargrove, and Jack Kenny
Review content copyright © 2005 Adam Arseneau; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.