The State: The Complete Series
DVD | Box Set
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The State was simply one of the sharpest, funniest, and most under-rated shows of the 1990’s. Originally created as MTV’s first foray into the sketch comedy genre, The State was a comedic gem that rocked Generation X with slapstick, smarts and witty sarcasm. The dynamic cast features 11 multi-talented actors that have continued to collaborate on such projects such as Reno 911!, Stella, Viva Variety and Wet Hot American Summer. MTV’s timeless sketch comedy show, The State, is finally here.
What Louis Armstrong once said of jazz--"If you have to ask what it is, you'll never know"--also applies to The State, MTV’s first sketch series that ran for three seasons in the 1990s. I couldn't begin to tell you why a word-for-word, cackle-for-cackle recreation of The Cannonball Run's blooper credits is bat-guano brilliant. But it is. The seamless ensemble is 11-strong; Some you will recognize (Thomas Lennon, Kerri Kenney-Silver and Robert Ben Garant of Reno 911, and Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter from Stella and Michael and Michael Have Issues), but The State is of much more than before-they-were-famous interest. It is a breakneck-paced, ceaselessly inventive show that holds up 14 years later. As did Your Show of Shows, sketches mostly steer clear of topical references that would date the series. How to characterize The State? Like Monty Python's Flying Circus, punch lines are optional. Unlike Saturday Night Live, the troupe was less interested in creating marketable recurring characters than they were in goofing on a concept (witness Ken Marino's Louie, "the guy who comes in and says his catchphrase over and over again"). Insipid television is an irresistible satirical target. There is a cereal commercial that gives new meaning to the phrase "idiot box,” and a faux-promo for an Abraham Lincoln bio that plays more like an E! Channel True Hollywood Story. Funny enough, but Ernie Kovacs was goofing on TV 40 years earlier. What The State brings to the party is inspired absurdity. In one sketch, a homeowner confronts his postman who delivers tacos instead of the mail. In another, two singers perform a Barry White-style ode to "240 pounds of pudding." Arguably the high point of the series is a show-stopping musical production number, "Porcupine Racetrack." The State has long been revered by hipper comedy aficionados, but not so much by the mainstream press. Included among this set’s generous extra features is one of the show’s original promos that highlights the scathing reviews the show had received (negative two stars from The New York Post!). Other extras include ensemble commentaries, the pilot episode, unaired sketches, and some hilarious appearances on other MTV shows, including The Jon Stewart Show and the spring break special, Shut Up and Laugh, Panama City in which the leotarded troupe performs a, shall we say, extended Shakespearean scene. The loss of the show’s original soundtrack of popular rock songs due to prohibitively expensive music rights could make devotees of this series red and blue. But it shouldn't be a deal breaker. There is little else about The State that is generic. --Donald Liebenson
- Pilot Episode (with Commentary)
- Unaired Sketches (with Commentary)
- Previews, and more!
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That being said, and knowing my love for this style of comedy, I was surprised with the new release of the MTV series from the past, THE STATE. I barely remembered the series but once I began watching I recalled why. I never thought it was all that good.
As I watched each disc play I kept waiting to laugh. No joke, I never found myself even offering a grin at the items showing on the screen. Instead I watched what felt to me like people trying to be like the great sketch comedy groups that had come before and failing miserably.
For those SNL fans who stuck through the series through thick and thin (don't include me here), you know there were years when the things they did just weren't funny. Instead they either relied on using sex or drugs to shock and get an audience reaction rather than a deep rooted laugh. THE STATE doesn't even go for those that often. Instead it just offers unfunny premises or attempts at jokes that fall flat.
I witnessed characters that I could get the easiest laughs from the most juvenile of viewers. For example a party seems to be boring as all get out only to rise once the group's favorite friend shows announcing that he wants to dip his [...] (not the phrase he uses) into everything. A drink? He wants to dip into it. A bowl of something? He wants to dip into it as well. Gee, isn't that funny? I will say that his delivery of the line might be but once said the joke gets stale very quick.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about this box set is that fans have been clamoring for it for some time. Heck, who would have thought it had that many fans? Online review sites note that the most disappointing thing about the box set is that they've altered the music since no one wants to pay for the rights to the original songs used. Who would have thought the day would come when people actually missed the music on something from MTV, a channel which has all but abandoned using music.
I really wanted to like this show and this set. I went in with an open mind, especially since I didn't remember it all that well. Instead it offered a comedy show with nothing to laugh at. It felt more like a show where people tried to be funny like the originals they seemed to emulate, but fell far short.
The comedy here relies more on how loud it can be and how over the top (for the time) the group thinks they can become. Unfortunately that doesn't offer long standing comedy gems. The humor in a Jack Benny sketch can still bring a laugh today more than 50-60 years after it was first heard or seen. This group can't muster a laugh (at least from me) after less than 20,
If you consider yourself one of the fans of the series, you'll be delighter here. Not only do you get the entire series on four discs, you get commentary from the cast, some of the members on THE JON STEWART SHOW, outtakes, and more. Fans will definitely get their moneys worth. If you're not a fan, chances are you won't be converted.
I am certain dedicated fans will think I haven't just paid close enough attention. They'll talk about how I just don't get what they were trying to do. They'll talk about how the most absurd situations presented were done so by an intelligent group of people who were trying to bring new standards to a tired old form. Too bad its just not funny.
Perhaps the nice thing about this series was that is spawned the careers of many who went on to bigger and MUCH better things. Many of the casts are involved with RENO 911 in front of and behind the camera. They've been involved in writing things like NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM, BALLS OF FURY, THE PACIFIER and more. I'm sure, having listened to the extra commentaries here, that these shows hold fond memories for them. I'm sorry I can't say the same.
That being said, yes, the music replacement is quite noticeable, as is the frequent and sometimes scene devastating blurring of any and all images that might require MTV to pay something for their display. The insert that comes with the DVD set claims that to include these images and songs would have cost millions and forbade the production of the DVD. I find that hard to believe.
How much is it going to cost to have a picture of Andrew Shue on a goofy homemade collage? Or some obscure album cover from 15 years ago? I can't imagine those would cost all that much. And how much can the inclusion of a handful of songs cost? Even just for those few that were played over the live performances in studio, which is where the dubbing is most noticeable (any skit performed in the studio that contains licensed music, does not have a single piece of original sound, whatsoever. It's all dubbed over with new music, generic audience laughter, and re-recorded performances by the original cast members). Pretty much every licensed song used in the show is background music with dialogue recorded over it. How, in that kind of context, is some Marvin Gaye song from 30 years ago or goofy grunge song from 1993 is going to cost "millions" to license? And how did songs such as "The Power" by Snap!, which is played over the guidance counselor sketch, make it in and all these others didn't?
I'm sure the real explanation is that MTV didn't give this DVD production any kind of budget at all, which is why we get all these alterations. I guess we should be thankful that the cast members and producers were so dedicated to the show that they took the time to find ways to get around all these inconveniences forced upon them by their stingy bosses.
It's great to see the show again and so many of my favorite skits, particularly from the first season. It's just a shame so many great parts are ruined by all the editing and audio dubbing. I consider it's 4-star rating entirely MTV's fault for being so cheap with one of its greatest shows.