Reviews

The State: The Complete Series

Part of the appeal is seeing all of these Comedy Central staples at the start of their careers, looking like they were just hired out of their college sketch troupe.


The State

Distributor: MTV
Cast: Kevin Allison, Michael Ian Black, Robert Ben Garant, Todd Holoubek, Michael Patrick Jann, Kerri Kenney-Silver, Thomas Lennon, Joe Lo Truglio, Ken Marino, Michael Showalter, David Wain
Network: MTV
US release date: 2009-07-14
Amazon

The State may not be the most influential sketch-comedy troupe, but it's certainly the most sketch-comedy troupe. Clocking in at 11 members, the group is almost double the size of some of its obvious influences, like Monty Python (six members) or the Kids in the Hall (five members). (Successor the Upright Citizens Brigade had to make do with just four people.)

Yet the show still managed to assemble all of its moving parts very quickly: The series lasted three "seasons" on MTV -- which, granted, only consisted of a couple dozen episodes -- and aired them all between 1994 and 1995, thereafter launching the members into the comedy world at large. And, though many former Staters went on to divide and conquer, finding success in smaller combos with projects like Wet Hot American Summer, Role Models, Reno 911, and Stella, it still took more than a decade to bring the series to DVD.

At least the boxed set doesn't do fans any further injury after already making them wait more than a decade for its release. The DVDs come with every episode, every sketch, and then some -- it offers 90-minutes of unaired sketches. All 11 comedians return to do the commentaries (though, thankfully, not all at once -- different cast members do different episodes), and there are also bonus materials such as MTV News interviews done back when the show was airing. It truly contains anything a fan could want, except, as a note in the DVD explains, some of the original music cues.

But does the comedy hold up after all of that time? Some of the sketches seem firmly rooted in the ‘90s. Doug, a popular recurring character, is a perfect encapsulation of the struggle between the Baby Boomers and Generation X. He continually tries to rebel against authority figures who are too progressive and permissive to really be upset by it.

The sketches themselves are funny but, with the Generation Xers now turning 40, somewhat hard to relate to. Other bits parody parts of popular culture that no longer exist, such as the parental warnings in front of Beavis and Butthead that, even after seeing them skewered on The State, are pretty hard to remember.

But for the most part, the series is as great as its fans remember. Fortunately, most of the sketches aren't rooted in the happenings of the ‘90s. Instead, they take on a more absurdist, more Monty Python-like humor. (One sketch, in which a customer pays a clerk at a copy shop only to have the clerk ape his motions and speech, seems directly out of the Python playbook.)

With such a big ensemble, the cast is able to play to a lot of different strengths. Some sketches, like Ken Marino's Louie, a guy who like to say the catchphrase "I wanna dip my balls in it", succeeds on the sheer charisma an enthusiasm of its delivery.

Other sketches rely more on a strange concepts or situations, like monkey torture ("They hate it!") or hunting Muppets. Still others go even further, such as one that found the cast members donning either pink or blue swim caps and jumpsuits while somehow giving physical representation to male and female teenage hormones.

"The State was not afraid to be insanely big," the commentary notes in somewhat of an understatement. Even when the jokes fall flat, the cast maintains a frenzied energy that at least keeps them moving along quickly.

The cast is not only diverse in its strengths, but also truly talented. Part of the appeal of re-watching The State is seeing all of these Comedy Central staples -- including Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, Kerri Kenney-Silver (the only female cast member), Thomas Lennon, and David Wain -- at the start of their careers, looking like they were just hired out of their college sketch troupe (which is not too different from how it actually happened).

Watching the series, you can see what came naturally to the cast members' personas and what was honed or discarded over time. (Michael Ian Black was always sort of smug.)

Even at their roughest, though, The State is still one of the strongest sketch shows to make it to air -- never really deserving, as one interview admitted, the "negative two stars" that their toughest critic gave the show when it debuted -- and fans should be pleased that they no longer have to rely on just their memories to enjoy it.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.