TV on DVD has become among the sharpest of the double edged swords on the modern entertainment landscape. There is certainly plenty to love about having all of your favorite shows at arms reach, and the format has become a great way of preserving shows that were canceled before their time.
DVD releases allow viewers to continue enjoying Arrested Development after its untimely demise. They make it possible for legions of browncoats to introduce their friends to the little sci-fi show that couldn’t and successfully lobby Firefly to be revisited on the big screen in Serenity. They can even resurrect shows that were on long before DVDs players became ubiquitous, giving younger viewers a chance to have their minds twisted by Twin Peaks or just leave them wondering how a show as good as Sports Night was canceled after just two seasons.
But now that any episode of any show you could feel like watching is probably available for free viewing at one of the umpteen sites that host hours upon hours of your favorite sitcoms and dramas, the mere repackaging of reruns is no longer enough for the viewing public. With DVD releases of every season of pretty much every show now par for the course, special features like gag reels, behind the scenes footage, making of documentaries, interviews with writers, directors and actors and ad infinitum pieces of commentary are included to add perceived value to DVD releases.
The new gold standard of TV entertainment released on DVD is not only presentation, but also dissection. Under the dueling microscopes of screenwriters and marketing gurus, analysis has become a necessary supplement to the generally mindless enjoyment that we so often look to television to provide. In some cases, this is a good thing.
The deleted scenes and mini-movies from NBC’s The Office, for example, frequently represent comic gold on par with the shows best work. But all too many of the not-quite-so-special features included with new DVD releases find television joining the dubious company of laws and sausages as things that no one really wants to see made. Season 2 of the hilarious British office comedy The IT Crowd is, unfortunately, an example of the latter.
It’s hard to find anything to complain about in the show itself, except that there is perhaps too little of it. In this all too brief six episode season, the show continues to mine the rich veins of nerd culture where it made its bones. But the creators have also made an effort to bring its characters out of the basement office that is both cradle and prison to Roy, Moss and Jen, the always amusing and often pitiful protagonists of the series.
The cast of Kathryn Parkinson, Richard Ayoade and Chris Dowd can tackle everything the scripts throw at them, selling over the top slapstick, absurdist sight gags and even the occasional can’t help but giggle pun with boundless enthusiasm. Whether they’re playing office golf, out for an evening of exceptionally gay musical theater or experiencing close calls with German cannibals, the trio routinely turns crippling awkwardness and social ineptitude into brilliantly executed, often surreal comedy.
But it’s the frequently absurd quality of these antics that render the show difficult to analyze well. Its goofball sensibilities and off the wall antics work pitch-perfect in the moment, but once you start examining them, the fun just gets sucked out of the experience.
The opening menus evoke a plethora of memes – screens referencing classic video games like Lemmings and Mortal Kombat or remind viewers of a simpler age of the internet, a time when All Your Base Belonged To Us – that are sure to be appreciated by the distinctly dorky demographic that the show appeals to, yours truly included. But beyond that, the special features represent a barren wasteland that ultimately detracts from the viewing experience.
The outtakes, which always have the potential to be a great treat where comedies, especially comedies with talented casts like The IT Crowd, are involved, are brief, thin and wholly unsatisfying. But they’re nowhere near as unsatisfying as the commentary of writer Graham Linehan.
Linehan, who also wrote and created the classic British comedy Black Books, is a gifted screenwriter – but that doesn’t mean he has much interesting to say about the show. More than anything, Linehan gives the impression that he would rather be doing almost anything other than discussing his work. But he is also unable to stop talking, ceaselessly jabbering away about every line, every scene and every inconsequential action. As a result, the commentary comes off rambling and aimless, as Linehan himself acknowledges at multiple points during the process.
Ultimately, if you just want to have episodes of one the funniest comedies running right now at your beck and call, then this DVD set is a great choice. But if you’re looking for interesting, entertaining commentary on the same show, you’re better off grabbing a 12-pack and inviting some friends over for a night in front of the tube. And when’s the last time that was a bad idea?