Part 4 – Feasts from the Fringe

As cable’s coaxial connectivity merged with satellite’s infinite options, the Nielsen numbers split. Like a falling stock without a bottom to protect its position, free TV flailed. In its place, the burgeoning pay landscape began filling the gaps. At first, it was the proverbial needle in the hackwork haystack. For every success, there was a backlog of titanic corporate failures. But what emerged from this mess was twofold. On the one hand, the old guard felt the need to step up their game, and the ideas they approved would spark a renaissance. And among the upstarts, the cream rose and remained at the top, taking viewers to places only the fringe can foster.

TV Show: Picket Fences

US release date: 1992-09-18

Network: CBS

Cast: Tom Skerritt, Kathy Baker, Costas Mandylor, Lauren Holly, Holly Marie Combs, Justin Shenkarow, Adam Wylie, Fyvush Finkel, Ray Walston

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/features_art/p/picket-fences.jpg

MPAA rating: N/A

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Picket Fences (1992-1996)

Before Ally McBeal, Boston Public and Boston Legal, David E. Kelley honed his talent for absurd humor and poignant social commentary with the small-town focused Picket Fences. Set in fictional Rome, Wisconsin, the four seasons of Kelley’s first produced and solely created TV drama, which ran from 1992-1996, used the small town palette to cast a wide lens on large range of issues.

Rome saw it all: AIDS, gay adoption, elephants and circus performers, bigotry, polygamy, all manner of fetishes, and any number of challenges to the constitution. Employing the twin pillars of police investigation and courtroom jurisprudence, Picket Fences may sound to the newbie like a Midwest version of Law and Order. It couldn’t be more different. Where Law and Order is all about the case and solving a crime, Picket Fences is all about its characters and the small and large problems they encounter in daily life. The show featured many quirky and enduring characters, such as Fyvush Finkel’s Douglas Wambaugh (a wacky, egotistical, but ultimately well-meaning lawyer), Ray Walston’s Judge Henry Bone (a delightful curmudgeon with a big heart), Tom Skerritt’s rock solid Sheriff Jimmy Brock, and Kathy Baker’s super smart Jill Brock.

Kelley began his career as an attorney and then honed his writing skills during his run as a writer and later executive producer on L.A. Law. That background in the law, plus his long writing experience using law as a springboard to address cultural and social issues on L.A. Law, led Kelley to create his finest work in Picket Fences. The award gods conferred Emmys on the show during its first and second seasons, but the series never faired particularly well with a mass audience on CBS. Perpetually suffering low ratings despite its critical acclaim, the show lasted a brief four years, but has found new life in syndication, particularly in Europe.

Sarah Zupko

Picket Fences

TV Show: Futurama

US release date: 1999-03-28

Network: Fox

Cast: Billy West, Katey Sagal, John DiMaggio, Phil LaMarr, Lauren Tom, Maurice LaMarche, Tress MacNeille

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/features_art/f/futurama.jpg

Website: http://www.fox.co.uk/futurama/

MPAA rating: N/A

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Futurama (1999-2003)

Want to know the real reason why this amazing animated sci-fi satire was cancelled after only four short seasons? Believe it or not, it has nothing to do with quality and everything to do with quarterbacks. When Fox was flailing for content, hoping to produce an entire night of cartoons to support its stalwart Simpsons, Matt Groening was given a chance to develop his dream project: a speculative fiction take on the future and the feebs living in it. Using a contemporary character, Phillip J. Fry, as the audience’s ally, the narrative would take the delivery boy 1000 years forward to a NYC filled with robots, suicide booths, and a sickening soft drink named Slurm. There, he would meet Cyclops ship pilot Leila, angry automaton Bender, and his own elderly nephew (?), Professor Hubert T. Farnsworth. Learning the ropes of 3001 would be part of the series’ farce, as well as the individual interaction and development the creator of American’s favorite family was known for. Unfortunately, football stepped in and ruined everyone’s plans. With games regularly running late, Futurama’s 7:00PM start was constantly jeopardized. The series was bumped so often that episodes regularly scheduled for the Fall ran as late as the middle of May.

Naturally, audiences couldn’t keep up with the sudden shifts, and after numerous attempts at bolstering its profile, Fox pulled the plug. Luckily, they also learned a lesson from Family Guy and got DVDs of the dying show out before public interest had fully faded. In typical Groening fashion, these discs are a delight. Fully loaded with commentaries and other supplemental context, fans were favored with insightful, instructive behind the scenes glimpses at how a major network series is created, and eventually compromised. Funny thing, though, some in the industry obviously learned from the success of Seth McFarlane’s lame cartoon cavalcade. Since its demise, Futurama has grown in popularity –- so much so that Comedy Central recently commissioned four made-for-TV “movies”. Once shown, each film will be divided in four. Viola! Sixteen more episodes of an unfairly stopped series -– and not a single steroided football player around to keep it from airing. As the professor would say, that is “good news, everybody!”.

Bill Gibron

Futurama

TV Show: Mystery Science Theater 3000

US release date: 1988-11-24

Network: Comedy Central

Cast: Joel Hodgson, Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Jim Mallon, Mary Jo Pehl, Bill Corbett, Josh Weinstein

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/features_art/m/mystery-science-theater-300.jpg

Website: http://www.mst3kinfo.com/

MPAA rating: N/A

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Mystery Science Theater 3000 (1988-1999)

What Mystery Science Theater 3000 did was so painfully simple: it was three guys making fun of the worst cinematic offerings in existence. Well, to be fair, it was usually one guy (creator Joel Hodgson or head writer Mike Nelson) accompanied by two wisecracking robots: the literate, lovable Tom Servo (Kevin Murphy) and the prank-loving Crow T. Robot (Trace Beaulieu). With their silhouettes in plain view, the trio wisecracked their way through B-movie offerings from Joe Don Baker (Mitchell) and Beverly Garland (Gunslinger), and the results were convulsively hilarious. Yet, what’s most remarkable about MST3K‘s place in television history was the sheer quality that it maintained throughout its ten seasons. Each 90-minute episode was jam-packed with everything from highbrow literary allusions to commonplace juvenilia and everything in-between. MST3K was one of those rare shows that was truly for everyone.

Yet, MST3K did more than provide a solid hour-and-a-half of laughter. It offered a second-life to films that — quality aside — were filled with top-notch ambitions but only D-list talent. Volume Nine of the MST3K box set series is just about the only place you can ever see The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies, a movie that famed rock critic Lester Bangs once devoted a whole essay to (which is almost as entertaining as the ‘bots version). Bangs made fun of the musical numbers, Servo questions why “zombie-country music” never caught on. Yet no moment shall ever surpass Manos: The Hands of Fate (available on MST3K: The Essentials), often regarded as the worst movie ever made. Filmed by a fertilizer salesman who lost a bet, Manos is one average American’s idea of what a horror movie was, and there’s a certain DIY charm to the whole affair: Hollywood’s stuffiest concepts as filtered through the American middle class. But still, when a shot of a passing field transitions into another passing field montage, Joel cracks “I bet they just dissolved into the same shot.” We laugh, we laugh again, and we stare in awe at how these films were even made in the first place. Consider MST3K the Criterion Collection for B-movies. Or just consider it one of the funniest television shows ever filmed.

Evan SawdeyMystery Science Theater 3000

TV Show: Seinfeld

US release date: 1989-07-05

Network: NBC

Cast: Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/features_art/s/seinfeld.jpg

Website: http://www.sonypictures.com/tv/shows/seinfeld/

MPAA rating: N/A

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Seinfeld (1989-1998)

It is perhaps ironic that Seinfeld, the quintessential show about nothing, actually presents in a funny, intelligent, and sarcastic way a variety of complex situations that tend to haunt our early adult years. From the modern rituals of dating and the painful patience needed while waiting for service at a restaurant, to the boring routine of our daily jobs, Seinfeld always had something clever and amusing to say about these everyday issues. It is undeniable that this comedy series were firmly grounded on real life situations. The fact that nearly everybody in his 20s or 30s could sincerely identify with Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld), George (Jason Alexander), Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) or Kramer (Michael Richards) is perhaps the reason why Seinfeld became such a popular show during the 1990s.

The unique sense of humor of the series comes when the characters, confronted with a difficult conundrum, take a wacky and eccentric decision which only worsens their problem. The funny part being, of course, that there has been a time in all our lives when we have actually thought of such an outlandish solution, but we never dared to actually implement it for fear of breaking the norm. In a sense, several of the bizarre situations found in Seinfeld bring to mind the outstanding surrealist works of Luis Bunuel. As such, Seinfeld presents an incisive criticism of the authority institutions that rule our life, making the series stand out as a rather unique allegory for social and moral freedom.

Marco Lanzagorta

The Sopranos and more…

TV Show: Prime Suspect

US release date: 1991-04-07

Network: ITV

Cast: Helen Mirren

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/features_art/p/prime-suspect1.jpg

Website: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/primesuspect/

MPAA rating: N/A

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Prime Suspect (1992-1996)

Prime Suspect upended the notion of the quaint British mystery program. Helen Mirren’s Jane Tennison was no Miss Marple. She was a deeply flawed, highly intelligent, complex, strong woman solving gritty urban crimes, all the while commanding a police force of largely hostile and sexist men. A Granada/ITV production out of the UK that appeared on American PBS channels in the classic Mystery line-up with Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Inspector Lynley and many more, Prime Suspect immediately stood out as something extraordinary.

An Oscar-winning actor on network TV is always a treat, but it was extra special here, where Mirren put on a virtual acting clinic in the seven episodes that spanned 16 years. Her character was tough and principled and faced enormous hurtles dealing with a very angry bunch of male co-workers who felt passed over as her career progressed and resented her success and authority. Tennison drank far too much, smoked even more, and slept with a fellow officer, on occasion. All this made her ever more real and heroic in the face of the ghastly crimes she had to solve.

Unlike earlier British mysteries that often featured “clean” crimes of poisoning or a simple shooting, things the audience rarely saw in much detail, Prime Suspect was intensely real and graphic with it’s fair share of grisly moments. Quite unlike recent American shows, such as CSI, Prime Suspect treated the depiction of violence and the images of gruesome death as rather matter-of-fact, never reveling in the sensationalism of gratuitous gore, but rather treating it as the day-to-day reality of dealing with crime and its agents in a massive modern-day metropolis like London.

Sarah Zupko

Prime Suspect – Behind the Scenes (Parts 2 – 6)Prime Suspect

TV Show: The Kingdom (Riget)

US release date: 1994

Network: DR

Cast: Ernst-Hugo Järegård, Kirsten Rolffes, Holger Juul Hansen, Søren Pilmark, Ghita Nørby, Baard Owe, Birgitte Raaberg, Udo Kier

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/features_art/k/kingdom1.jpg

Website: http://www.o2.dk/riget/elevator/elev.html

MPAA rating: N/A

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The Kingdom (1994-1997)

As a master and guiding force behind the noted Dogme ’95 filmmaking style (more or less a cinematic vow of chastity), it’s hard to fathom Lars Von Trier’s involvement in this amazing Danish TV series. And it’s a supernatural storyline at that. Prior to spearheading the controversial moviemaking agenda, the director was desperate for money to establish his production company. Turning to television, he devised a four part narrative revolving around a haunted hospital (Copenhagen’s Rigshospitalet), nicknamed “Riget”, or the kingdom/realm that leads to death. The plot revolves around Stig Helmer, a neurosurgeon recently arrived from Sweden. With a past to hide and new surrounding to acclimate to, his life is nothing but stress. In addition, a psychic patient named Sigrid Drusse hears the voice of a little girl crying in the building’s elevator shaft. She’s determined to find the root of this spiritual disturbance, while avoiding the various oddball happenings. With its reliance on surrealism and quirky characterization (as well as a Down’s Syndrome Greek chorus of dishwashers, many feel it is the international cousin of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. But there is more to Von Trier’s tale than abject weirdness.

When the initial installments left fans dissatisfied (very few issues were wrapped up in a conclusive manner) Von Trier developed a second set of four episodes. Even though a third series was considered, The Kingdom would end up as a series of eight enigmatic installments. For fans, finding the title on DVD proved to be a hit or miss proposition. With various releases from differing regions providing their own set of issues, the devoted hoped that Fox Lorber’s Region 1 version would finally produce a definite disc. Instead, the bizarre shooting style used by Von Trier (the movie was shot on 16mm, transferred to videotape, edited, returned to 19mm and then blown up to 35mm for release) was amplified by the subpar presentation. Still, all technical squabbles aside, this remains a stellar example of international entertainment, and a precursor to the complicated career this artist would eventually enjoy. Master of Horror Stephen King loved it so much, he adapted it for American audiences in 2004.

Bill Gibron

The Kingdom (Riget)

TV Show: The West Wing

US release date: 1999-09-29

Network: NBC

Cast: Alan Alda, Stockard Channing, Kristin Chenoweth, Dulé Hill, Allison Janney, Moira Kelly, Rob Lowe, Joshua Malina

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/features_art/w/west-wing.jpg

Website: http://www.nbc.com/The_West_Wing/

MPAA rating: N/A

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The West Wing (1999-2006)

Some shows titillate you. Some portray convoluted romantic liaisons. Still others take place in hospitals. And then there are the rare shows that have a potential affect upon the viewer. They aren’t inspirational in the sense that Touched by an Angel is inspirational, or even inspirational like ER is inspirational. They are inspirational because they make possibility manifest before the viewer. The West Wing is that kind of show. It takes a process that both alienates, and impacts, its participants -– politics. And it rips the gauze off the top, and lays it bare before the viewer. It’s enough to make one care about politics, an odd response in an age of apathy.

So despite the criticisms of The West Wing –- it’s too liberal, it’s not realistic, it’s written by Aaron Sorkin (I kid!) –- it had the potential to fundamentally alter the expectations of its viewers. It could make one start to read the Washington Post. Of course, it was also a show that debuted during the Clinton era (Martin Sheen’s character inspired many comparisons to Bill himself). As such, with a two-term Bush presidency and an Iraq war in between that very first episode and now, one might wonder if The West Wing has held up. The good news is that the optimism and hope at the root of the show has survived. The bad news is that the critique that The West Wing was never particularly realistic is all the more manifest now.

Rewatching the DVDs of the first four seasons, one is struck by how out of touch the show seems with the day-to-day events of the world. The 9/11 episode, which shows the characters debating terrorism and what to do about it –- seems impossibly decontextualized by the Iraq war. Sorkin couldn’t have known what was to come, but the show still suffers for it. Luckily, the stories are still at times hysterically funny and compelling. Sorkin’s characters still the most articulate ones on television. And listening to Sorkin’s commentary tracks (about one every five episodes) reminds you of why that is. It’s because of Sorkin himself, who talks like every one of the people he gave life to on The West Wing.

Mordechi Shinefield

The West Wing

TV Show: The Sopranos

US release date: 1999-01-10

Network: HBO

Cast: James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Dominic Chianese, Steven Van Zandt, Tony Sirico, Robert Iler

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/features_art/s/sopranos.jpg

Website: http://www.hbo.com/sopranos/

MPAA rating: N/A

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The Sopranos (1999-2007)

It’s hard to find anything new to say about The Sopranos. And I probably won’t. We can talk about the first season of Veronica Mars or Twin Peaks — and the truth is that they were both exceptional television, but the debut season of The Sopranos remains the crowning achievement of American television. I sometimes make the mistake of thinking that David Chase’s epic series has been over-rated, but then I watch it one more time, and I realize that I’m a jackass. An existential tale of families, duty, honour, violence, and death, this first season of The Sopranos was absolutely Shakespearean in scope, and no television should be without a copy.

Roger Holland

Homicide: Life on the Street and more…

TV Show: Homicide

Subtitle: Life on the Street

US release date: 1993-01-31

Network: NBC

Cast: Daniel Baldwin, Ned Beatty, Richard Belzer, Andre Braugher, Reed Diamond, Giancarlo Esposito, Michelle Forbes, Peter Gerety, Isabella Hofmann, Clark Johnson, Yaphet Kotto

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/features_art/h/homicide.jpg

MPAA rating: N/A

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Homicide: Life on the Street (1993-1999)

It’s a classic line spoken by the craggy Det. John Munch (Richard Belzer): “Homicide: our day begins when yours ends.” He’s the guy who can crack a joke and never crack a smile. Suitably grim, designed with a dark current of humor, all seven seasons of this highly acclaimed, addictive drama, winner of two Emmy Awards, three Television Critic’s Awards, and three Peabody Awards, are a must-have on DVD. The lives of these no-nonsense, inner-city Baltimore detectives are as bleak as the remains of the murdered whose cases they try to solve, sometimes with success.

Indeed, the platform for Homicide is built upon death and the despair that wafts from it, rather like an uneven, wooden walkway holding your weight just inches above a funky swamp. Sounds rather like existential angst, doesn’t it? What better embodiment of such angst than the prickly, whip-smart and impatient Det. Frank Pembleton (Andre Braugher). Oh, he’s tough, but then he’s oftentimes felled (sometimes quite literally to his knees) by his tortured Catholic soul. Which is it that causes such agony? Death? Or Life?

Oh, but it’s not all gloom and doom, any more than the average day is for the average joe. Det. Tim Bayliss (Kyle Secor) will see to that, with his open-eyed optimism and exploratory nature. While navigating this shaky walkway, he may look down at the murk below and ponder it, for a moment, but his thoughts are really with the life that goes on in his heart and head, far above the muck at his feet.

Barry Levinson’s Homicide was a frontrunner in a new style of television, opening with edgy, graffiti-like credits, filmed on location in Baltimore with hand-held, 16mm cameras, and written in a filmic style. These factors gave the show a feeling of immediacy, a lack of polish, an edge that we all feel, every day we have to walk out that door. After an episode of Homicide, one might have to lean over one’s armchair and spit out some grit caught in the teeth. It’s that good.

Karen Zarker

Homicide: Life on the Street

DVD: Hill Street Blues

TV Show: Hill Street Blues

Network: NBC

Cast: Daniel J. Travanti, Joe Spano, Michael Conrad, Veronica Hamel, Charles Haid, James B. Sikking, Barbara Bosson, Ed Marinaro, Michael Warren, Betty Thomas, Bruce Weitz, Dennis Franz

Website: http://www.hillstreetblues.tv/

MPAA rating: N/A

First date: 1981-01-15

Last date: 1987-05-12

Distributor: Fox

US Release Date: 2006-06-12

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/features_art/h/hill-street-blues.jpg

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Hill Street Blues (1981-1987)

When you think TV cops, you probably imagine clean-cut, uniform clad bastions of justice, matinee idol looks complimenting a seemingly flawless law enforcement façade. Since they were really nothing more than reconfigured Westerns, the police programs of the ’60s and ’70s were so straight down the good guy/bad guy line that you could cut yourself on the ridiculous razor’s edge. Then Hill Street Blues came along. Granted, there had been previous attempts to take the “boys in blue:” out of their anti-criminal comfort zone, yet they always had to find a way to sugarcoat the strategy (Barney Miller, for example, used humor).

But when MTM Productions gave series writers Stephen Bochco and Michael Kozoll creative license, the young guns literally ran with the concept. Blues was to be the first series to make wearing the badge a burden, showcasing how the demands of public safety took a highly personal toll on all involved. The show also tweaked the conventions of the one hour drama, introducing intertwining storylines, several episode arcs, and a sense of authenticity and realism usually relegated to film or the documentary. Of course, it was a failure. Audiences weren’t ready to face such a shift in their super cop belief system.

But then NBC did something equally radical. Even with sagging ratings, and poor prospects for increased viewership, they put quality over the bottom line and supported the show. They even renewed it when everyone in the critical community thought it was doomed for the cancellation axe. The tactic worked. Slowly but surely, the fanbase increased. Emmy arrived and handed the series a trophy case full of accolades. What was once a faltering experiment in dramatic realism became a TV institution, setting the stage for how future shows would approach the subject. While other police dramas have moved far beyond Hill, it remains the benchmark that all must follow.

So far, of the seven seasons produced, Fox has put the first two out on DVD. The presentations have been praised for their attention to detail and inclusion of insightful bonus features (commentary, deleted scenes). Unfortunately, the digital domain hasn’t been as support of the show as the network once was. The last box set came out over a year ago, and the lack of sales may sink the release of the remaining five. Here’s hoping the studio does the right thing. This is a clear case where preservation should usurp profit.

Bill Gibron

Hill Street Blues

TV Show: Mr. Show

US release date: 1995-11-03

Network: HBO

Cast: Bob Odenkirk, David Cross, John Ennis, Tom Kenny

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/features_art/m/mr-show.jpg

Website: http://mrshow.com/

MPAA rating: N/A

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Mr. Show (1995-1998)

Long before The Sopranos, Sex and the City, Six Feet Under, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Entourage became the talk of HBO’s original programming series, there was Mr. Show. The brainchild of comedians David Cross and Bob Odenkirk, the half-hour sketch comedy program fused the absurdity of old school SNL and The Ben Stiller Show with the fluidity of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, particularly in the way that it so brilliantly managed to segue one skit into another, an uncanny nod to Terry Gilliam and Co. During their short, but monumental, four-year stint on-air, no stone was left unturned when it came to who and what Cross and Odenkirk aimed their multi-pronged funny stick at.

Brian Wilson, Sid and Marty Krofft, Marilyn Manson, lizards, George W. Bush, Carrot Top and Dr. Demento were just a few of the victims of the duo’s satiric ire. And quotable? You could fill a hard drive with Mr. Show soundbytes alone. My personal fave is from the “Druggachusetts” sketch knocking the Krofft Brothers’ thinly veiled psychedelic children’s show HR Pufnstuff: “I declare this pizza AWESOME!” And who could forget the Taint Magazine episode: “I’m not talking about his c*ck and his ass, imbecile. I want that… the taint.” Jesus Christ. And what about my other personal favorite, Pit-pat, that weird blob Bob and David’s slimy Globo-Chem ad execs came up with during “Commercials of the Future” so as not to offend anybody, deducing him as a “magical, pan-sexual, non-threatening spokesthing” to push their totally dangerous and unhealthy products, ending each commercial with his whimsical refrain: “Take it from me, I love you!” This stuff is cracking me up just thinking about it!

And what about that slacker send-up of Jesus Christ Superstar starring Jack Black, whose Tenacious D was quite possibly the finest spin-off of a TV series since Three’s a Crowd (yeah, that’s right!) Or how about the John Cryer as Duckie cameo in “Fat Kids Camp”. The Complete Collection collects all four seasons with a ton of extra goodies, including cast commentaries, mountains of deleted scenes and TV appearances outside of Mr. Show, most notably Bob’s nudie shot for Comic Relief in 1998. I declare this box set awesome!

Ronald Hart

Mr. Show

TV Show: Strangers with Candy

US release date: 1999-04-07

Network: Comedy Central

Cast: Amy Sedaris, Stephen Colbert, Paul Dinello, Greg Hollimon

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/features_art/s/strangers-with-candy.jpg

Website: http://www.jerriblank.com/

MPAA rating: N/A

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Strangers With Candy (1999-2000)

A warped yet wickedly funny send-up of after-school specials, Strangers With Candy aired on Comedy Central for three seasons. The protagonist, Jerri Blank (Amy Sedaris), is a 46-year-old “boozer, user, and loser” who returns to high school after spending 32 years as a teenage runaway. Sporting a tar-stained overbite, crude prison tattoos, and sublimely ill-fitting pants, Jerri confronts teenage-genre tropes both grand (bulimia, STDs) and mundane (a homecoming-queen election, debate-team tryouts). At home Jerri is tormented by her evil stepmother (whose Meat Man, Stu, makes house calls) and her A-hole half-brother, Derrick; at school she is taught lifelong lessons, like the fine art of bikini-waxing (“It’s important to have clean lines around the delta region”) and how to “snare the retarded” (“We’re doing our best to weed them out, but some of these retards are extremely clever”). With its ‘70s-era color palette, deliciously melodramatic score, and calculated perversity, the show plays like an episode of The Brady Bunch as imagined by John Waters. (Remember the episode when Marcia referred to Greg as a “dick lick”? It’s just like that…) It’s not hard to see why the series has attained cult-classic status:

The humor ranges from the scatological to the subversive to the just plain silly, but it’s never less than hilarious. Sedaris is gloriously shameless as Jerri. Also terrific are Greg Holliman as Principal Onyx Blackman, and Steven Colbert and Paul Dinello as a pair of teachers carrying on a not-so-secret affair (their inaugural tryst in “A Burden’s Burden” is arguably the funniest moment of the entire series). The first season of Stranger With Candy is by far the strongest of the three, but the complete run is available in one DVD set if you don’t want to miss a moment of the madness.

Marisa Carroll

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