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STUDIO: Paramount Home Video
RATED: NOT RATED
RUNNING TIME: 222 Minutes each
-Original Pilot Episode
-Original Live Version of “Little Donny” and “Andre the Giant Song”
-Live Audio Commentary with the Cast on Pilot Episode
- Alternate Audio Commentary from Little Donny on his very own episode
- Live Commentary at the UCB Theater
-Early Live Performances
Gather up all of your ass pennies to buy these truly wonderful seasons of sketch comedy.
Ian (Bring it On) Roberts, Matt (Martin and Orloff) Walsh, Amy (Mr. Woodcock) Poehler, Matt (Reno 911!) Besser
The Upright Citizens Brigade (Walsh, Poehler, Besser and Roberts combined) are a shadow-funded operative whose only mission is to bring chaos to the world. These two seasons of sketch comedy follow their exploits throughout the world using cyborgs, organized religion, the Wu-Tang Clan and Supercool in order to infiltrate and explode any sense of stability.
I’d like to think that sketch comedy is something I’m pretty familiar with, and even though we can argue comedy’s subjective qualities, I think it’s easy to see a talented sketch group for what they are even if you don’t fully connect with the material they create (just look at something like Mr. Show versus something like Mind of Mencia; it’s clear which program is a labor of love in a situation like that regardless of personal preference*). And it’s always nice to see a show with a clear comedic voice that differentiates from the Mad TV/SNL school of sketch comedy that seems to work on its own wavelength. Upright Citizens Brigade is just such a show and if you didn’t check it out over its three seasons on Comedy Central almost a decade ago, now is a perfect time to jump on board and see some fantastically ridiculous sketch comedy.
The first season is a mixed bag (but always entertaining if not always laugh-out-loud funny) with some classic bits such as the aforementioned ass pennies or setting a climatic showdown on a college campus to an aggressive cover of Chumbawumba’s "Tubthumping”. They’re clearly learning the ins and outs of creating a television show in this season and you can see them honing their craft over the entire season, with some sketches coming out aces and others simply settling for being amusing. My personal high-water mark of the season is the Cyborgs episode as Matt Walsh delivers a classic performance in a short bit of business as a cyborg. A truly fantastic bit of comedic nonsense on display there. It’s a training ground for sure, but there’s not a stinker amongst the ten episodes and if not hilarious, is always smile-inducing or conceptually hilarious if not actually perfect in its execution.
By the time the second season rolls around, it seems like everyone has raised their game, or become more comfortable with the idea of sketch comedy on television, as the show is tighter, quicker, and more laugh-out-loud funny than the first season (which, while never anything less than amusing, is more a chuckler than a howler, in all honesty). Perhaps it’s the fact that the material from the next season was culled from their live improv shows and wasn’t the previously performed stage material that made up the majority of the first season. Even if you change the formula for material performed numerous times before there’s probably the off chance it’s not going to pop like freshly conceived material will, regardless of how good it is. No matter what, they’ve clearly found their niche in this second season as they begin to weave in references to prior episodes with ease, creating a cohesive universe out of the insanity. Plus, it contains my favorite sketches in either season (infested with friars, the John Denver support group, and Fecal Jesus trump anything done in the first season, even ass pennies) and some amazing standout performances from all of the actors (Besser as the master elocutionist, Poehler as the Dickensian chimney sweep, Walsh in the Scared Straight parody, Roberts as the breast-obsessed parapsychologist) involved. Both seasons are worthy of a view, even if my praise is fainter for the first season. It’s worth it just to see these actors get their feet wet on a bigger stage, and began to hone their craft for later projects (Amy’s work on SNL and the fantastic and under-seen flick Martin and Orloff). Highly recommended.
The cover art is simple without being boring and is a showcase for interesting eyewear so it gets no complaints from me. The show looks and sound quite good on these discs, so one doesn’t have to worry about “TV shows from a handful of years ago transfer shittiness” syndrome popping up here. As for extras, both sets are stacked, so fans and newcomers are going to more than get their money’s worth with the plethora of goodies included. The first season is a re-issue from its original release and nothing seem to have changed except for the Comedy Central previews that roll in front of it, and it’s a nicely put together collection of material on that set. You get an original pilot episode with a number of sketches performed in front of a live audience (interesting to see how much or how little the sketches changed from being filmed to being performed live) with optional commentary as well as five of the ten episodes (with the Little Donny having two commentaries, including the dreaded in-character commentary, that isn’t catastrophic in this case, despite being historically a poor choice for commentaries). There’s a deleted scene and some live performances of their sketches in early form from back when they worked in Chicago (interesting if only to see how the sketches had evolved from that point) and the pretty terrible Comedy Central commercials for the show. A nice package to compliment an entertaining set.
Season two kicks it up a notch with commentary offered on every episode (with references to dookie boobs and other such treasures galore), a handful of deleted scenes, an audience Q&A that preceded and followed their live commentaries, and clips of their early appearances for Comedy Central as a group as well as early versions of both their opening and the Hyperminimalism sketch. Overall, these sets are stuffed with goodies that are truly a treasure for fans of the show and are all worth a spin just for entertainment value alone. Hopefully Comedy Central takes some time off from promoting it’s sixty percent feces lineup to release a season three DVD before the Rapture.
*Although if you gravitate towards Mencia I have a timeshare in Dachau I’d love for you to visit.
Season One: 7.8 out of 10
Season Two: 8.8 out of 10
Overall (DVD package): 9.0 out of 10