Put down that chainsaw and listen to Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger.
Oh, this is a story 'bout a guy named Al
Humor master (and enduring idol of many an '80s child) Weird Al Yankovic finally gets his shot on television. This is cosmic! Preordained! Meant to be. Hey…what's with all the studio execs?
Facts of the Case
Weird Al (UHF) and Harvey the Wonder Hamster hang out in a colorful underground lair. Their friends periodically stop by, such as The Hooded Avenger (Brian Haley, The Man Who Wasn't There), Bobby the Inquisitive Boy (Gary LeRoi Gray, The Fairly OddParents), Madame Judy the Psychic (Judy Tenuta, 10 Attitudes and Lorena from the "Headline News" video), Val Brentwood: Gal Spy (Paula Jai Parker, Phone Booth), and Cousin Corky (Danielle Weeks, Humanoids from the Deep). A surprising parade of guests (Alex Trebec, John Tesh, Victoria Jackson, Ron Popeil) makes it to Al's lair, as well as hot musical acts of the day (Barenaked Ladies, Hanson). Settle down, kids, and learn important lessons from Al and his friends.
The basic gist of the show is this: A parchment with the moral of the episode rips in half to reveal Al in his underground lair. Some moral dilemma or another is introduced. Al proceeds to act like a jerk in front of millions of people, bringing shame and disgrace on his family name for generations to come. His friends drop by to show him the right path, but Al won't listen. He placates Bobby the Inquisitive Boy with warped public-domain footage and then watches a lot of TV. Sometimes there are Fatman cartoons. Al learns his lesson, smiles, and contorts himself into a small ball while spraying whipped cream all over his head. A musical act ushers in the credits. Though the latter episodes seem more natural and have a better vibe, all of the episodes have their intestines ripped out with a fork by the browbeating moral of the episode.
CBS needed educational television to meet an FCC mandate. Al wanted a television show. Yes, Weird Al Yankovic finally got his shot on television—complete with a do-it-yourself wing-clipping kit, a set of cement shoes, five dollars for advertising, and a mob of studio goons with blackjacks standing just off stage. Apparently, CBS's paranoia about imitable behavior (and the less than angelic behavior of their last kids' host, Pee Wee Herman) had left them gun-shy and aggressive with the red pen. Each show's moral was to be front and center, with every joke a message. No script emerged unscathed.
The thing is, Weird Al is a consummate artist and perfectionist. His parodies may be razor sharp, but his soul is gentle. Al purportedly turned down massive beer sponsorships because he did not want to send children the wrong message. He is a vegetarian, he practices Yoga, and from all accounts is a nice, if driven, guy. This is precisely the sort of television host you leave alone to do his best work. Even his average work would do.
I should know: Weird Al Yankovic is responsible for the biggest turning point in my own education. Picture this, if you will. Fifth grade. Young Judge Rob sits in class, bored stupid. The project is to read a biography of the American you admire most, write a book report on the biography, and make a presentation to the class about why you find this American so inspiring. While most kids blathered on about Abraham Lincoln or Donald Trump, I presented "The Authorized Al." Clad in a Hawaiian shirt and armed with a few Al tunes, I gave an honest account of why Weird Al Yankovic was the American I admired most.
In short order I found myself in the principal's office with a missive from my teacher to be put into the remedial class. She felt I might be learning disabled, a "slow" child. The principal instead placed me into the academically gifted program, where I went on to create a Weird Al board game and lead a successful academic career that continues today.
I bring this up to illustrate a point: Weird Al inspires children. He is a conscientious custodian of their moral upbringing (if you're depending on a Saturday morning kids' show to do that). Yes, some kids might attempt to place their hamsters near a microwave oven in an attempt to grow giant hamster beasts, but most kids will get the joke. If not, there's always the slow class.
I also bring it up because I am compelled to write the truth: This show stinks. Or, at least, it doesn't ascend to the stratospheric heights of hilarity that every other Weird Al venture does.
Perhaps fellow Al fans will fathom the pain I feel in typing these words. This weekly Al show is like a precious gift gone sour. The bulk of the jokes are not funny, drained of any perceivable edge. Al is like a parody of himself, with all of the trimmings and none of the heart. Watching The Weird Al Show does not inspire me to go on a spree of violence in the same way that Barney does, but it left me numb.
Actually, there are moments of Weird Al magic interspersed throughout the show, like truffles hidden in troughs of doughnut lard. The commercial parodies are vintage Al, pointed and hilarious. Some of the repurposed public domain footage is absurd and amusing. The occasional gag lands huge, such as when Al shakes hands with the world record holder for longest fingernails and ends up with a handful of yellowed keratin. Al uses his guest stars to great advantage, creating a surrealistic game of celebrity spotting. Best of all, Al and the band do a live version of "Yoda," one of the best songs ever. These hints force me to wonder what hilarity an unfettered Al would have achieved.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
To be fair, the stated demographic of this show is 2- to 11-year-olds, a group I aged out of some time ago. Just because I've been a Weird Al fan since the Doctor Demento days and can still sing "Mr. Frump In The Iron Lung" word for word doesn't mean this show should be for me. And in truth, my four-year-old loves it. He continually asks me to show the part with the peanut butter pizza, and he cracks up when Corky asks Al for a box of smelly socks. Even under these worst of circumstances, Al is magical for little kids. That makes my heart burst with joy.
There is more good news. Al, perhaps sensing that another television show is not in the cards, holds nothing back in the thirteen commentary tracks. Along with producer Tom Frank and director Peyton Reed, Al lays bare all of the frustration, joy, sorrow, and anger he experienced while making the show. These three guys (with periodic guest commentaries from other stars) completely dissect what went on behind the scenes. These commentary tracks are so honest, engaging, and bittersweet that they become the feature presentation. It is worth buying the set just to hear them.
Also, even though Al's humor is subsumed, it is not stamped out entirely. The commercial parodies are truly hilarious, as are a handful of moments sprinkled throughout the episodes. Alex Trebec is a hoot, as are the rest of the guest appearances. Is it wrong to admit that Cousin Corky and Val Brentwood: Gal Spy give me a very special feeling? Meanwhile, Madame Judy the Psychic makes me want to drink a glass of milk—just so I can snort it out of my nose with laughter.
Along with the commentaries, there are concept drawings for things like the set and the show's logo, Fatman comic storyboards, and a frantic karaoke segment. If you can absorb and recite all the words to this theme song, you're a bigger Al fan than I am.
Shout! Factory has presented a clean transfer that ably carries the wild color scheme. The audio is a standard television-to-DVD mix, with no quality problems. There are some synch issues on the third disc. I also had some hiccups when navigating the sub menus that forced me to restart the disc.
Until a DVD compilation of Al TV sees the light of day, The Weird Al Show: The Complete Series is the largest dose of we're likely to see of the Weird One on DVD. If the content itself is lackluster, at least Al and friends saw fit to exponentially increase the set's value with full-throttle commentaries. The latter episodes are much better than the first handful, and all of them contain some interest for Al fans young or old. It isn't the show Al or his fans were hoping for—but it is Al, and that's good enough. Here's hoping that Al rocks the humor parody for decades more…and may one of his non-parodies get some respect.
If you don't mind me askin', what's this poisonous cobra doing in my underwear drawer?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
• 13 Commentaries with Weird Al, Cast, and Crew
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