Stella: Complete Series
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Stella: Complete Series

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Some comedy shows you get right away. The humor is straight forward with jokes that conform to what you expect. Then there are those shows that are an acquired taste. This seems to be especially true with sketch comedy series. When Saturday Night Live start all those decades ago they where cutting edge, with acts such as Andy Kaufman doing his lip synch to the Might Mouse theme song you never quite knew what was coming. Now, most such shows are almost interchangeable. The sketches are almost to the point of being predicable. One series presented by Comedy Central broke the mold and it is now available on DVD, Stella. Even the name is misleading, it is not a woman but a group of three very strangely funny men; Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter and David Wain. In the short lived series they play a bizzaro world alternate persona of themselves. The series was short lived; it would appear that even the comic minds of Comedy Central didn’t get this unique brand of comedy. Starting on June 28th 2005 and ending August 30th of the same year it was hardly given a chance to catch on. While this was vital for an acquired taste series the show was cancelled in favor of a more overt comedian. At least we now have the DVD to remember it by and enjoy.

As you begin to watch the first moments of episode one you get the idea that this is not a routine comedy series. The guys are riding in their car arguing about what type of music they should listen to before going to bed. The two Michaels are in favor of their traditional Funk but David wants to mix it up with Funk-Rock. Black threatens to run the car into a telephone pole if the argument continues. David tells him to go ahead and do it. Michael immediately crashes the car, coming out still arguing about Funk with blood dripping from his scalp. It doesn’t stop there; they continue to bicker as the play a strange version of racket ball with two of them lobbing balls at the other and in the steam room with their trademark grey suites. Part sit com, part sketches this comedy fusion is nothing if not strange.

Each episode has a loose theme to somewhat hold things together. Of course with this series the terms ‘theme’ and ‘hold together’ are extremely relative. The aforementioned Funk debate results in the boys playing the agreed upon music so loud that their neighbors complain to the landlord Mr. Muller (Peter McRobbie) and get them kicked out of their apartment. With their suites instantly taking on the look of hobos they trio hit the streets. Such unexpected transformations are not rare here, in another episode they somehow become Neanderthals. Nothing in this series plays by the rules. Normality is out the window and even the laws of nature are fodder for their exploits. By the end of the episode they have won over the resident review board with a Flashdance like number and save the landlord’s life by performing open heart surgery, not that any of them are doctors. Personally I wouldn’t want them to put a band aide on me.

Life is not always clam with the three friends. In one episode they disagree on the vital matter of coffee and each open their own coffee shop. The rivalry peaks as their each try to out sell and under price each other. Keeping with their strange view of the world a coffee shop here is a folding card table and some folding chairs on the street, sort of a grown up version of a child’s lemonade stand.

The closest possible description of this series is a live action cartoon. The characters are consistent in their insanity but totally devoid of any contact with reality. This is grade school humor presented by usually well dressed men. While this is a turn off to many and without a doubt was part of Comedy Central’s decision not to renew the series it is also why it takes time to get the comedy here. The downside here is they do tend to beat the joke into the ground by going on far too long. Like the kids on the playground who are trying to be funny they get an initial laugh and keep going with it. There is actually comic insight with this approach. With so many things going on in our lives it is great to take 22 minutes out of the day and go back to that simpler playground view of the world. There is even an episode where the boys take on a paper route, not something usually associated with men in grey suites.

Their world is inhabited by others for the boys to play off of. There are women in this unusual environment although I haven’t a clue why any woman would want to be anywhere close to them. Karen (Rashida Jones), Jennifer (Andrea Rosen), Stacy (Heidi Neurauter) and Amy (Samantha Buck) all play neighbors and friends of the zany trio. Some of these actresses may seem familiar to the audience. Jones was a regular on Boston Public while Buck was on the much more serious Law & Order: Criminal Intent for one season. They don’t really get much to do other than act as foils for the antics of the guys.

It is almost impossible to consider the three members of Stella as individuals. They mess so well together that they actual start to blend. Michael Ian Black is the ad hoc leader of the troupe. It usually falls to him to make the decisions, as ill fated as they may be and to do the more grown up things like drive. Michael Showalter is the preverbal middle man. He is the easier going of the group and usually supports the other Michael. David Wain is the problem child in most cases, arguing and bickering at the drop of a hat. Together they are a form of a dysfunctional family. If you have ever seen their acts on a web cast you know that a lot had to be toned down for basic cable. This show may have faired better on Showtime.

Paramount has brought this short lived series to DVD with some flair. The full screen video is typically well done with a good color balance and contrast but there are some problems on the edges. The audio is nothing special but then again it only needs to get the dialogue out. There are several extras for the die hard fans out there. Every episode has an audio commentary track with all three members of the group. They expand a bit on the jokes and take numerous pot shots at their former bosses at Comedy Central. There is a History of Stella that runs some 42 minutes. It goes through more than you ever thought you wanted to know about them. There is also a pre-series episode where Comedy Central introduced Stella to their audience. Just to round things off there are some deleted scenes and a blooper reel. If you are tired of sophisticated humor or just want to laugh a little like you did in grade school this is one for you.

Posted 9/22/06

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