No Holds Barred: ‘The Sarah Silverman Program: The Complete Series’

Prior to her greenlit Sarah Silverman Program, Sarah Silverman developed a very distinctive voice in the early millennium that saw her as the sadistic female version akin to Raffi, that is if Raffi sang peppy songs to children about flatulence, homosexuality, abortion, and racism. Nevertheless, Silverman broke onto the scene with one women shows and was met with a modicum of critical praise, particularly for the cult hit Jesus is Magic, that featured her un-PC “Jewish rhetoric” on taboo subjects that most fresh faced women in comedy stayed away from.

When The Sarah Silverman Program premiered on Comedy Central, critics praised Silverman for her no holds barred approach in the way she tackled topics that saw her character taking on an absurdist view point on feminism, AIDS, homosexuality, and racism, in a way that could pass for a secondary mouthpiece to actual conservative talking heads. In its first two seasons it brilliantly captured the independent spirit of the 90s that The Groundlings had from its low budget sets and the charming dialogue that just so happens to gets under the skin and is often referred to as “full frontal jewdity”. Each episode spins through a plethora of comedic slapstick-y tones while remaining to accomplish that personal cheerful bubbly touch the comedienne carried quite hilariously through her one woman acts – including melodramatic song interludes, before quirky characters like Zooey Deschanel put them in the cute machine and cranked them out as hipster chic.

The show rolls out stand alone episodes, exposing the mainstream comedy viewing audience to all the vile, and repugnant things that made up the Silverman’s on stage persona, and threw it into a cast of players that could match her infantile, narcissistic, self deluded character beat for beat. The sketch show included her real life sister Laura Silverman, her homosexual neighbors that she called “gaybers” (played terrifically by Brian Posehn and Steve Agee) and her sister’s boyfriend Jay, whom she detests (Jay Johnson).

Each episode follows a similar formula where Sarah wakes up in a chipper mood to her dog Doug, and then falls into a dilemma that sees her question people’s morals, which is usually met with the character obliviously taking on a deplorable stance in lieu of a social commentary for the greater good, and usually leads to Silverman having to weasel her way out of a sticky situation. By episode’s end she seems to skew her “lesson learned” to her unassuming pooch and goes to bed learning nothing at the end of the day, but it’s still good fun.

Although it might not be the every day viewer’s typical cup of tea, there’s an underlying fact that Silverman is at her A-game with the brand of comedy she brings to the table in The Sarah Silverman Program. The show’s pilot is the season’s ultimate high, and the quirky guilty pleasure insulting hysteria that ensues with Sarah’s introduction sets up the whole short-lived show. The unemployed character is seen drinking cough syrup in the aisles of a supermarket, and seeking advice while simultaneously insulting an elderly African American woman.

Sarah decides that it’s appropriate to operate a vehicle, and as she drives her world becomes that of a colorful, whisical acid trip, and the woman “man/child” winds up driving onto a children’s playground. Sarah is booked and taken to jail after it’s discovered she had unpaid parking tickets, and in the last five minutes of the episode she winds up chumming it up with drug addicts, and coming to her own epiphany that “elderly black women are wise beyond their years but younger black women are prostitutes. “

Much of season one is made up of similar outrageous scenarios that would make a typical audience viewer question Silverman’s sanity, but ultimately praise the boundless creativity that she exudes as a performer. Other scenarios include her offering her home to a homeless man she once knew from high school (Zach Galifinakis), but refusing to give him a place to sleep or food. A highlight of another episode sees her going to a clinic to get tested for HIV because she “wants some good news”, it’s there that she convinces herself that her previous reckless behavior might result in her having full blown AIDS, and before the results are in, she becomes a voice for people struggling with the disease, creating a campaign to promote herself as an all around awesome person, rather than focusing on the fictitious bout of AIDS she insists she has.

Silverman’s trek to “bridge social differences” charges on in season 2 as she becomes a victim of discrimination after she’s convinced she was denied a spot in a country club because she’s Jewish, and later applies black face to take on someone else’s plight. If that’s not enough, then in an episode titled “Patriot Act”, she runs down bearded men who she thinks might be Osama Bin Laden with her car, and then raises awareness about 9/11 by creating a play.

A shortened season 3 sees Silverman coming to the defensive of child molesters by creating a “fun van” decked out with Rockband, candy, and other childlike things to lure children in. In this episode she comes to terms with the fact that it’s the inanimate object that makes pedophiles want to molest children. Offensive? Absolutely. Deplorable? Extremely. Charming? Oddly enough, yes. Genius? Silverman might be just that all rolled into one.

As for its bonus features, each disc is nothing short of a terrific. There are hours upon hours of special features, with peppered commentaries by key cast members including Silverman. A highlight are several shorts on “cookie party”, a show the fictional characters enjoy. Season two has more features, including animated webisodes that continue the journey of Sarah and her friends, and more behind the scenes footage.

For what they couldn’t air of season three, they certainly dedicate hours of material to the shortened season which is packed with inside bonus features, bringing the viewer through the inception of the show as told by Sarah Silverman, and includes a look at how the writers room comes together for an episode by filming its writers discussing bits for the show. In addition, this disc has a Q&A and even more behind the scenes.

Unfortunately, the show was cancelled after three seasons, proving that perhaps the raunchy yet honest comedy of Sarah Silverman was before its time and we weren’t quite ready for a woman comedienne as brash as her, who could sing about “going number 1” in the same way Adam Sandler has for years. In fact, before hits like Bridesmaids, female comediennes were typically only seen as having to be the smart, sassy, Janeane Garafolo A-types, which left little to no room for women who wanted to act out like their male counterparts without apology. However, much has changed this year since Judd Apatow’s Bridesmaids hit the scene, exposing women as raw forces to be reckoned with in a genre typically ruled by loud, hefty, disheveled men.

It’s no surprise that it actually took a man to shed light on the fact that women could go head-to-head with the opposite sex, and perhaps if The Sarah Silverman Program was greenlit in today, now that we have the Melissa McCarthy’s and Lisa Lampanelli’s of the comedy world, the show might have gotten a fair shake. With the success women have seen this year in comedy alone allowing the side plot character to branch out into a leading role, we’ll probably see a lot of females conquering comedy in the same fashion for years to come–here’s hoping there’s still some room for good ole Sarah Silverman.

RATING 7 / 10