Ben Stiller Show, The (Dbl DVD)
Before Zoolander, Night at the Museum, Dodgeball, There's Something About Mary and Meet the Parents there was The Ben Stiller Show! Now, catch Stiller's early years in this acclaimed but short-lived comedy series. Launched in 1992, the series boasted a strong following and, though it only a short time on network television, the sharply written and ingeniously funny show snatched the Emmy® Award for comedic writing and was the darling of widespread critical acclaim. The Los Angeles Times calls it "rip-roaring hilarious" while the San Diego Union-Tribune finds it "wildly funny, scathingly sardonic and brilliantly executed." Co-starring alongside Janeane Garofalo, Andy Dick and Bob Odenkirk early in their careers, Stiller's groundbreaking sketch comedy talents are put to hilarious use with spot-on showbiz parodies of movies, television, music and more, including wickedly funny impersonations of Tom Cruise, Bono, Bruce Springsteen, Daniel Day-Lewis, Bruce Willis and more!
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 and SCTV. 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