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STUDIO: Warner Bros
RUNNING TIME: 489 Minutes
• “Life Inside a Cubicle” featurette
• 1-900-MIMI spoof
“It’s Dilbert, expect with a fatter lead, the schmuck from Whose Line Is It Anyways as Dogbert, and that guy who does the great Columbo impression as Dilbert’s boss!”
Drew Carey, Kathy Kinney, Dietrich Bader, Ryan Stiles, Christa Miller, Kevin Pollak
So this is what Blake Clark’s reduced to when not in servitude to Adam Sandler: doing Drew Carey’s dirty laundry. I shudder to think at what Allen Covert’s up to.
Another TV show centered around the misadventures of a fat, working-class schlub and his goofball friends, expect this time we’re in the realm of Office Space by way of the Cleve, the greatest city in the world.
If ever there was a TV show that seemed destined for failure, it was this one. It was timed to cash in on the Dilbert craze. Its lead was a wholly unremarkable stand-up who resembled a loaf of WonderBread, and the biggest names surrounding him were the American guy from Whose Line Is It Anyways and the voice of Kevin Fuck Pollak. And man, in a market already glutted with the Sitcom Schlub, why feel the need to add one more? Plus, it was set in Cleveland. In Cleveland! The fucking Ohio River caught fire there and no one noticed (note: my mistake. It was the Cuyahoga River that caught on fire. The Ohio River is nowhere near Cleveland. Kids, this is why research can be a good thing)! Don’t try and tell me that ain’t unusual.
Imagine my surprise when The Drew Carey Show turned out to be one of the best weekly sitcoms on the air.
I’m not kidding.
From the start, it just worked. Though the set-up be familiar, the execution was anything but. The humor was edgy and often bizarre, but not so much so as too alienate the crowd—at the end of the day, this show was about the common man and the everyday mundanities surrounding him/her. The fact that it was damn funny only sealed the deal.
"You do realize that Warsaw Tavern’s a gay bar, right? All the crew-cutted Germans aren’t cueing you onto that?"
And Mr. Carey supplied a good deal of that humor. I didn’t think he was funny before the show, and I certainly don’t think he’s funny now that it’s over. But he was the perfect anchor while it was on, all rumpled charm and endearingly…normal. At times, especially in this starter season, his acting came off as a tad more forced and awkward than it would in later years, but in a way, it made sense. Drew Carey was just a guy, not an actor, so it fit the part.
Of course, no man is an island, and Carey was backed by one of the best ensembles in a long while. Looking at this season, it’s nice to see how well established the character relationships and interactions already were. Drew’s relationship with best friends Oswald, Lewis, and Kate was first past the post in this field. Each actor here was essentially playing a “type” (the moron, the space cadet, and the hot tomboy), but the chemistry between the lot made that irrelevant. Dietrich Bader (Oswald) and Ryan Stiles (Lewis) are still one of Television’s great “Magical Moron Twins” pairings, and whether it’s screwing up deliveries for the Fed-Ex like Global Parcel or being experimented on by DrugCo, these two always made me laugh when on camera. A lot. Christa Miller’s Kate is just as good (and her face doesn’t look messed up like it does now on Scrubs…does anyone else notice that?) as the best friend you’d want to fuck if you weren’t having so much fun drinking beer and playing pool with. Then there’s Mimi. As Drew’s office nemesis, Kathy Kinney was supposed to last only one rapport. But the perverse glee she takes in tormenting Drew, coupled with her Divine meets Cesar Romero look, remains one of the most enduring elements about the show, and she was quickly made a regular.
Now, not all was good this season. Both Drew and Kate had love interests that never really went anywhere. Lisa, Drew’s office girlfriend, was appealingly played by Katy Selverstone, and their relationship led to some decent tension in terms of whether or not they’d be caught and punished for seeing each other at work, but the writers stretched out maybe one episode’s worth of material for them over a whole season. It got a little tired. On the other hand, Robert Torti’s Jay, Kate’s boyfriend, was completely useless and seemed to exist only to assure viewers that Kate didn’t prefer “Touching the Void,” if you know what I mean. And even though Kevin Pollak had his moments as Drew’s unseen boss, he wasn’t near as funny as replacement Craig Ferguson’s would be the following year.
"What? This outfit is comfortable. It’s practical. That’s why I’m wearing it. (Pause) I don’t like chicks, if that’s what you’re thinking. (Pause) Honest I don’t."
But those are minor quibbles in an otherwise terrific show. Now, bring on the “Cleveland Rocks” years!
The picture here’s decent but not great; it definitely reeks of that whole “early ‘90s” television palette, occasionally grainy and smudgy (especially in scenes with weather, which, this being a sitcom and all, there are few). Sound’s flat but tolerable. No big whoop. I feel the same way about the box art, which is a “wacky” picture of the main (read: “returning”) cast mates.
For a four-disc set, the shows themselves are the main feature. We get two small additional ones, the first a nice little talking-heads piece featuring the main cast and crew members where they discuss the challenges behind this first season (and if you thought Kathy Kinney looked bizarre done up as Mimi, she’s downright frightening out of makeup), and a joke "1-900-MIMI" ad that’s pretty freaking’ silly, but otherwise disposable. Again, the show’s the star here.
Though not perfect, the first season of The Drew Carey Show is well-worth watching, for both fans and the uninitiated, and hold up good today. The features are slim, but they’re really not a big deal. The show’s good enough to stand on its own (save the last couple seasons of its run, when it became just a joke, and a boring, unfunny, and balls-explodingly bad one at that. But that, Dear Reader, is a story for another night…).
Huh. So this is what Divine must look like outta makeup.