For its brief and shining moment--12 aired episodes, to be exact--The Ben Stiller Show
, which aired on Fox in 1992, recaptured the anarchic spirit and subversively funny voice of first-season Saturday Night Live
. More too-hip-for-the-room than ahead of its time, the show suffered dismal ratings and was unceremoniously cancelled. It then went on to win an Emmy for best writing and attract a fervent following, enhanced by the fact that the series has seldom been syndicated. This long-awaited DVD release fills not a void, but an abyss. To watch Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, Andy Dick, and a pre-Mr. Show
Bob Odenkirk at the dawn of their mostly unconventional careers, romp in the show's opening is akin to watching the Beatles frolic on that football field in A Hard Day's Night
. Stiller and company's pitch-perfect and intimately observed skewering of movies, television, and show business convention could be exhilarating, as witness "Woody Allen's Bride of Frankenstein" (you'll never watch another Allen film with a straight face again), "Cape Munster," with Stiller as a psychopathic and vengeful Eddie Munster, "Skank," a potent comment on the crass programming that was initially Fox's stock in trade, and even brilliant riffs on the seminal reality series Cops
, which re-imagine the series in witch-hysteric Salem, Massachussetts, ancient Egypt, and medieval times.
In addition to the cast's uncanny impersonations (Stiller's Bono, Tom Cruise, Bruce Springsteen, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Bruce Willis, and Garofalo's Juliette Lewis), The Ben Stiller Show was home to a gallery of recurring characters--agent Michael Pheret, the No, No, No Guy--who, thankfully, SNL producer Lorne Michaels was not around to parlay into godawful films. The topical humor can't help but date some of the material (the show is a veritable Trivial Pursuit of pop culture references, from The Partridge Family to Beverly Hills 90210, but the brilliance of the writing and sheer abandon of the performances are still a joy to behold. --Donald Liebenson