Judge Dave Ryan has eight watches. None of them are fake.
"Damn you, tail!"
"Everyone stay up and play
Facts of the Case
In the tradition of every kids' show since the dawn of television, TV Funhouse features a kindly host—Doug (Doug Dale)—and a bunch of his puppet friends, called the Anipals. Except the Anipals really want nothing to do with Doug, and abandon him to go do…um…really adult sorts of things at the first opportunity. Plus, cartoons!
In the twisted, off-color-comedy-loving sub-universe of which I am a part, there is one show that has always been number one on the "why isn't that out on DVD yet?" list. That show is, of course, She's The Sheriff. But a close No. 2 is TV Funhouse, the spinoff of the cartoon segments of the same name from Saturday Night Live. The show, created by former Late Nite with Conan O'Brien writers Robert Smigel (You Don't Mess With The Zohan) and Dino Stamatopolous (Moral Orel), ran for a mere eight episodes on Comedy Central back in 2000 and 2001. However, much like the Dana Carvey Show before it (for which both Smigel and Stamatopolous wrote), it definitely left an impression on those who watched it. Unfortunately, the show cost more to produce than Comedy Central was willing to spend on it and was quickly canceled.
It's easy to be glib and just call TV Funhouse "Triumph the Insult Comic Dog: The TV Show" and be done with it. But that's too simplistic a description. Triumph is primarily a tribute to the long tradition of insult comedy; he's a puppet Don Rickles. TV Funhouse goes beyond that relatively narrow focus, and really…explores the space. It is the anarchic, profane, and—yes—sophomoric spirit of the Conan O'Brien show unleashed on network-censor-free cable TV, marbled with streaks of the wry, heavily New York-influenced observational humor of Woody Allen. (Yes, I just compared a show that has a rubber dog puppet eating its own poop to Woody Allen. So sue me.) It is juvenile, sophomoric humor—but it is probably the most intelligent juvenile, sophomoric humor you'll ever encounter.
Smigel, in discussing the Triumph character, has said that the essence of Triumph is that you can say almost anything to anyone, so long as you say it using a cute puppet. TV Funhouse shows that you can do almost anything with a puppet, no matter how vile, and still make it funny. The show also mixes in actual live animals (who, of course, give totally real and unscripted performances) with the puppets. (The real animals are never harmed in any way, although they are placed in some rather compromising positions.) The entire ethos and feel of TV Funhouse is summarized by one of the truly brilliant ideas in the show, the restaurant "Sames," where "You Eat What You Are." So the turtle eats turtle soup, Jeffy the Duck eats roasted duck, and the cats and dogs eat (of course) Chinese food. But they don't stop there. No, they have a lobster pick his dinner out of a live lobster tank…then take it home in a doggie bag…and have sex with it. And that, in a nutshell, is TV Funhouse.
Each episode of TV Funhouse is structured in basically the same way. There's a theme for each show (e.g. "Mexicans Day" or "Safari Day"), which also serves as the individual episode's title. Doug the host begins the show with an attempt to organize some sort of theme-related activity for the Anipals. The Anipals ignore him and go off to do their own thing. Thereafter, the show operates on three tracks: the main Anipal storyline, the "B" story with poor good-natured Doug back in the Funhouse trying to make the best of things, and the cartoons/pre-filmed live-action segments (three to five per show). This two-disc DVD set contains all eight filmed episodes of the show, four per DVD, in the order that they were originally aired, as follows:
The shows are presented uncensored. Actively uncensored, as a matter of fact—because clean, unbeeped audio tracks couldn't be found, the voice actors (mainly Smigel and Stamatopolous) had to re-dub all the profanity. But it's worth it just to hear a lobster swearing like an agitated Marine…True purists will notice, however, that one of the episodes—"Christmas Day"—is incomplete. That particular episode is missing the "Globetrotter's First Christmas" cartoon that was originally a part of it. In the commentary track, Smigel explains that it could not be included on the DVD because the cartoon had originally been made for SNL and therefore had been licensed from NBC, which did not allow it to be used in this DVD set. (The cartoon is available as an extra on the Saturday Night Live: The Best of Saturday TV Funhouse DVD.) Picture and sound are pretty much exactly what you'd expect for a 2001 TV show.
Fans of the show are going to buy this set simply because it's so difficult to find these shows on TV now (Comedy Central seems unmotivated to actually air them), but the extra features included are a nice bonus. The major extra is the series of commentary tracks from Dale, Smigel, and Stamatopolous, one for each episode. (On a couple of the episodes, they're joined by Andy Breckman, who served as a writer and producer on TV Funhouse.) The guys don't take the commentary tracks that seriously, which actually works well in this particular case. I don't really care about the technical details of filming puppets; I'm much more interested in random details, like how the voice of Terrance the Snake is based on Adam Sandler's imitation of Judd Apatow. Smigel and Stamatopolous are also very good at indicating who wrote what on the show—which is interesting stuff to know, if only because a lot of the core TV Funhouse creative team have gone on to other successful projects. For example, Andy Breckman is the creator of Monk, Stamatopolous' Moral Orel has garnered critical acclaim and ratings success on Adult Swim, and Tommy Blacha co-created Metalocalypse with Brendon Small (of Home Movies fame). You can see the roots of a lot of these shows' humor in some of the bits on display here.
The rest of the extras are primarily filler, but good filler. I wish the "Video Commentary" with the puppets had been longer and better organized (it's really just the guys goofing off with the puppets and a video camera), but it's fun while it lasts. The behind-the-scenes footage and outtakes are basically raw footage of filming with the puppets—don't expect a real blooper reel with Goulet or anything. There are also two clips of Triumph stuff, which really don't relate to the show at all.
Finally—it's a small thing, but the copy text on the DVD packaging is actually pretty funny too.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In case the necrophiliac lobster sex didn't clue you in, the humor in TV Funhouse tends to be extremely coarse, sexual, profane, and aggressive. There are people in the world who don't find any profane humor funny. Those people should stay far, far away from these discs—especially the "Chinese New Year's Day" episode, which has something to offend just about everyone.
Just because something is low-brow, profane, and sophomoric doesn't mean it can't be brilliant satirical comedy. TV Funhouse is all of these things. Unfortunately, the combination of high production costs and low ratings resulted in a short run, and therefore this is probably all we're ever going to see of this show. But for eight episodes around Christmas 2000, it was a spectacular ride.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Comedy Central
• Episode Commentaries with Robert Smigel, Dino Stamatopolous, and Doug Dale
Review content copyright © 2008 David Ryan; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.