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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With The State, as I'm rewatching, overall I don't find it as hysterical as I did in HS but I think that's due to a cpl of things. One, as many have said, it was ahead of it's time so back then there was nothing like it on exactly & that was part of what made it so funny. Now there's all sorts of other funny videos or shows that make some of the outrageous skits they did look tame. But I've also discovered, or rediscovered parts I didn't even remember which I find hysterical(like Captn Monteray Jack & more-sorry if I'm spelling it wrong). Not to mention, it's totally nostalgic for me to watch & just makes me happy!
Last thing I'll mention is the Extras are really great, esp for a show that hasn't been on the air for so long. I have other DVD's from that time period w/ little to no extras. There are interviews, outtakes, & commentary for literally every episode by the cast. One of the interesting things I learned was that they actually weren't canceled by MTV as many, inclduing me, thought they'd been. They wanted them to do another season but they declined, I believe they chose to go to another network & it didn't work out.
Anyway, I would def recommend it if you were a fan. The cast are all really funny which is why many of them are still relevant. And watching the show again feels like going to see a group of old friends who could always make you laugh & cheer you up if you were in a bad mood. I love this show.
That risk paid off though, at least for those who watched it, as The State delivered three or so seasons of sketch genius that deserved a place alongside the true legends of the genre, mostly because they were from a new generation of comedy troupes who learned from the pioneers, but wanted to blaze their own trail, a group that included The Kids in the Hall and the Upright Citizens Brigade. Taking influences from Monty Python and adding a healthy helping of pop-culture flavor, The State bent the expectations for sketch comedy and yet managed to practice the art to near perfection, until an ill-advised move away from the comfort of MTV to the more corporate, less-nurturing CBS ended their show.
From the moment the unusual theme song kicks in, with it's rough, loud "Boys and girls...action! Action!", you know this show is something different. Utilizing links to move from sketch to sketch, filming with a mix of multiple camera and single camera shoots and mixing longer sketches with quick bits, the show built a legitimate sense of momentum that helped the group's absurd sensibility create a show where anything truly could happen. In a single episode you could have a slapstick-style food fight, a commercial parody, a kabuki scene, talking, vengeful seamonkeys and the story of a relationship with a toothbrush. There's no such thing as the prototypical The State sketch, with only the recurring character sketches bearing any resemblance to each other (and even those are parodies of recurring characters.)
All the credit obviously goes to the troupe, who wrote and performed everything, and the talent they brought to the show is obvious in the success so many of them have had in the years since the show left the air. Considering how organic the group's origins are, with them being college pals and improv group colleagues before getting the show, the variety of styles they bring to the table is surprising, with a bit of everything amongst the 10 guys, including the overwhelmingly funny Michael Ian Black, Thomas Lennon and Ken Marino, and an unbelievably versatile and hilarious lady in Kerri Kenney-Silver. Of course, with just one female member, drag is also a big part of their arsenal, with their technique coming in somewhere between Monty Python and the Kids in the Hall, as there's not a lot of an attempt to be feminine, but the women don't tend to be as grotesque as some of the females portrayed on the Flying Circus. Truthfully, unlike SNL or many other sketch shows, there's not a weak link in the bunch, with even the lesser-known stars, like Todd Holoubek and Kevin Allison, having their moments of brilliance and overall solid performances.
With hundreds of sketches included, it's hard to pick out a handful to highlight, without leaving out a ton of great ones, so instead focusing on the genres makes sense. The recurring characters, which were mostly foisted upon the group by MTV, looking to build popular bits, actually ended up becoming popular, despite making fun of the idea of a sketch built around a catchphrase. Thus we get several segments with Louie (Marino), a guy whose sole attribute is a desire to dip his (golf) balls in various items, and announcing that desire, along with teen rebel Doug (Michael Showalter), who is unable to cope with understanding authority figures, and busts out his own exit catchphrase (which itself is parodied in a sketch.) It's amazing how many times it feels like they are trying to not make a legitimate sketch, only to create a memorable one, like "The Animal Song," a bizarre musical scene, or the Barry and Levon bits, which center around $240 worth of pudding.
The show has aged surprisingly well, with bits that aren't hugely timely, though most of the MTV-focused segments, including an MTV Sports parody and several "Free Your Mind" commercials, may fall on the deaf ears and blind eyes of younger viewers. Making fun of talk shows, kids getting in trouble and sneakers that make piggy sounds when you step down on the heel are simply universal concepts, as is the extreme absurdism the show trades in. A commercial for cereal where everyone is at least mildly mentally retarded is an example of where this show is coming from, and that's just the first episode, as it just gets weirder from there, touching on monkey torture, dinnertime prayers for fratricide and Eastern European variety shows (the origin of the later Viva Variety series.) Having a line that's hard to cross, or no line at all, will go a long way toward helping you enjoy this series.
Just to start, according to The State's site, there were only three seasons on MTV, with the third being aired in two parts, but this set is broken up into four seasons. Considering the group was heavily involved with the discs, there's no reason to doubt this organization, but it is a bit weird. On the other hand, it made it easy to split the four seasons over four discs, with a fifth for more bonus material. The discs are held in a trio of black ThinPak cases, which are inside a loose-fitting slipcase that also holds a note from The State (explaining the music replacement (see The Quality for details,) and some promo inserts. The DVDs feature animated full-frame menus with options to play all the episodes, select shows, check out the bonus material and activate audio commentaries. There are no subtitles and no audio options, but closed captioning is available.
The episodes were remastered for re-release (on iTunes first and then on DVD) and the results are clear on these full-frame transfers, especially when you compare them to other shows from the early '90s. There's an odd inconsistency to the footage though, with some scenes looking like they were shot last week, with a clean image that sports bright, appropriate color and a good level of detail, while others look like home video I shot with my old Sears shoulder-mouth camcorder, with that distinct dull, soft look that only VHS does justice to. It's not even like you can compare in-studio to location shoots, as they vary in quality no matter where they were shot. No matter what you're looking at though, there's no obvious damage or compression artifacts, though there's a bit of blurring that's distracting, as copyrights are upheld on posters and such throughout the series.
The audio is presented in pretty standard Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks that do a fine job of recreating the early-'90s basic cable sound of the series, with clean dialogue and clear music, though there's nothing dynamic about the mix.
Now, about that music replacement... When the show aired, they were free to use a wide range of music due to deals MTV had with the major labels. So there were a lot of well-known music tracks throughout the series. Those deals didn't extend to video, so most of the music had to be replaced ("The Power" by Snap somehow slid through.) It's frequent, but, as the updates were done with the cooperation of the troupe, the creator of the rocking theme, Craig Wedren of Shudder to Think, was brought in to do fill-in tracks, and he's done an excellent job of recreating the feel of the original songs. The most memorable example of music in the series is probably the iconic use of The Breeders' "Cannonball" in the classic "Pants" sketch, but it's imitated with some heavy bass use to good effect. It's not ideal, but as noted in the packaging, the cost of the music would have prevented the DVDs from being released, and some rights were simply not available to them. The only real down note is the removal of a link sketch where the cast sang part of a Pearl Jam song, but only the most hardcore fans will miss it or notice its absence.
The Bottom Line
Incredibly, The State remains truly hilarious, even with the dual demons of timeliness and music copyrights working against it, thanks to a fantastically funny gang of creators working with a relative level of freedom. After years of hoping by fans, a complete collection of episodes has finally arrived, and it looks and sounds very nice (despite many changed music cues), while packing some impressive extras to boot. Though the music and blurs are frustrating, I can't think of anything else I could ask for in this set, aside from the CBS special, which is likely a rights issue (though aren't they all Viacom now?) As such, I feel I have to give this the highest rating possible, if only for finally fulfilling the wishes of so many. It's a fantastic walk down memory lane for longtime fans, and a chance for a new generation of fans to dip their balls in The State.
I grew up having the liberty to catch a few episodes of this here and there on MTV.
Later in life, I found myself to be one of the few people who would quote lines from the series.
This show to me is great.
It was way before it's time.
There are a lot of time period references, so if you're a kid who was born in the 90's you may not catch on to some of the items they're referring to as much.
All in all this is an amazing show, so much that I was so surprised when I saw the full series available on amazon.
I had to jump on the opportunity.
The only other way to obtain this show was on the xbox market place, and all they had were roughly 5 episodes.
Go for this buy!
"I'm Doug, and I'm outta heeeeeeyyyyyyyuuuuuur"
If you want to watch one of the silliest sketch comedy shows with actors that you've probably seen in Reno 911 and Party Down... grab it!