Short Cuts #1: Sounds a Little Sketchy
Reviewer: Bobby Morgan
You are currently staring google-eyed at the first in a new series of themed articles here at EuroCultAV where I cram a bunch of reviews of titles with common traits into one KFC Famous Bowl of caffeine-fueled wordplay. This week I take a look at three collections of minor classic television sketch comedy from the 1980's and 90's that spawned a few great careers and were often a figurative barrel of laughs.
The Best of Fridays
Cast-Michael Richards, Larry David, Melanie Chartoff
Country of Origin-U.S.
Best known as the sketch comedy show that briefly stole some of Saturday Night Live's when the NBC war horse was weakened by a revolving door of egomaniacal producers and stars (and second best known for hosting a fake on-air riot instigated by Andy Kaufman, whose entire life has been carefully analyzed in the wake of his death), Fridays makes its long-awaited debut on DVD. Music clearance issues are doubtlessly making full season sets a pipe dream so Shout! Factory has assembled a five-disc set of the episodes they were able to clear for reissue and called it "The Best of Fridays". As evidenced by this collection Fridays was a show not destined to find its legs, but you have to admire the sheer cojones the people responsible for its existence displayed in producing some extremely political material at a time when satire was becoming a forbidden word. The musical guests are amazing too with names such as the Clash, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Graham Parker, the Cars, Dire Straits, Devo, Pat Benatar, and KISS making SNL's talent bookers look like a bunch of squares and helping to dull the pain of the occasional lackluster sketch (and boy there are many). The hit-and-miss humor makes it easy to forget that Fridays first brought together three of the core talents responsible for making Seinfeld a classic of television comedy nearly a decade later: Larry David, Larry Charles, and Michael Richards.
Each episode is presented in 1.33:1 full screen format. I didn't expect the picture quality to be anything but solid by early 80's broadcast standards, and lo and behold that's exactly what it was. The shows look fine with an adequate amount of grain. Audio options are limited to a single English 2.0 track for every episode. There is a minimum of distortion in the sound mix but for the most part the shows sound good. No subtitles are provided. The sixteen original episodes are spread across the first four discs in this set, with an additional fifth disc packed with new and vintage supplemental features. We get reunion discussions with the cast (59 minutes) and writers (59 minutes) that bring back most of the people involved with the show's success, an interview with cast member Maryedith Burrell (13 minutes), a featurette about the "Andy Kaufman Incident" (9 minutes), an animated photo gallery (5 minutes), and a vintage news segment about the show (8 minutes). All in all a pretty good collection of extras for a comedy series that's mostly forgotten but deserving of a second look.
The Film: 3/5
MADtv: The Complete Second Season/The Complete Fourth Season
Cast-Nicole Sullivan, Orlando Jones, Phil LaMarr
Country of Origin-U.S.
Speaking of pretenders to the SNL throne, Fox's hour-long attempt to forge their own late night comedy empire lasted far longer than anyone thought possible and most of the time was funnier and more imaginative than their mighty competition. The show was still struggling to make a name for itself in its second season which aired from September 1996 to May 1997 but its key ensemble was slowly coming together, though the recurring characters were more annoying than amusing (however, I'll love Nicole Sullivan's Antonia forever). Guest hosts in this season include a lot of the network's other "talent" trucked in to shill their own shows and work for cheap and a few genuinely funny people, like the legendary Rodney Dangerfield. Things pick up for the 1998-1999 season with less guests, less shrill sketches, and a killer Halloween episode featuring Robert Englund and KISS. MADtv's skits rarely dragged on even when they weren't working and there were many laughs to be had from its finest shows.
The second season features 24 episodes and the fourth has 25 and each episode is presented in 1.33:1 full frame with English 2.0 audio tracks. The transfers are very sharp and look about as good as the shows did when they first aired, and they sound just fine too. Nothing too demanding, but the DVD presentation does an excellent job of replicating the experience of watching MADtv on regular television back in the day. "See children? This is what life was like before TiVo, back when the original programming on cable didn't complete suck balls." There are no extras for either season.
For both seasons:
The Film: 3/5
That's it for this week. Tune in next time for some obscure horror from abroad, and I mean obscure. So obscure their own distributors have still never heard of them.