In 10 Words or Less
A shining light of comedy in America's darkest hour
I've been a fan of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" since it started, watching religiously as Craig Kilborn and the crew made fun of daily events, with a snarky wit that Kilborn brought with him from his star-making time on ESPN's "SportsCenter." So when it was announced that he was leaving the show, and taking his "Five Questions" with him, I was extremely disappointed and figured the show was over. Looking back, it was like being disappointed that doctors were giving up leeches as viable medical solutions.
Jon Stewart didn't rock the boat too much upon coming on board, but during his time as the anchor of "The Daily Show," he's slowly influenced major changes to the feel of the show, and it's become a sharper, more biting parody of the news media and a keen, intelligent and no-nonsense reporter of current events. As goofy as the show can get, it's still reporting the national news, along with more comedic side stories, but with a smart-ass perspective that represents a slice of America that's extremely frustrated and outraged with the world, but wants to laugh at it, rather than blow their brains out.
This collection of eight episodes focuses on the 2004 presidential election, splitting the episodes between the national conventions, which were loaded with comedic openings, even if the entire fiasco made you want to cry. Establishing himself as the only anchor without credibility issues (he never had any to start with), he became the Walter Kronkite of a new generation who don't necessarily trust the media. In Stewart, viewers knew what they were getting, and that's a brief update on what's going on in the world and a bunch of laughs to go with it.
When dealing with political conventions, you know the kind of people you are going to talk to, and that's people who maybe take themselves and the political system way too seriously. That makes it all the more enjoyable when "The Daily Show"'s staff unleashes their sense of humor on them. Whether asking convention delegates if it's right that there are no Republicans at the Democratic convention, or using out-of-context clips of Lynne Chaney to make fun of her husband, the show is hilarious. Even the faux campaign movies, George W. Bush: Words Speak Louder Than Action and John Kerry: He's Not George W. Bush, which mock those shown at the conventions, are done so well that they are able to overcome the possibility that they would outlast their jokes.
By being on-location at the conventions, (well, the GOP came to them), the shows could be even more topical, working the local angle to perfection. They were also able to snag some big time interviews, which were pretty good, including show-favorite John McCain (though in full partisan mode) and Ted Koppel, who is, in his own way, very funny.
Though the disc is obviously flavored by a liberal/Democratic slant, the left doesn't walk away unscathed, and it's hard to say who gets the worst of it. Democrat-in-label-only Zell Miller's speech at the Republican convention might have set off the show's staff more than anything. Stewart is wild introducing clips of the madman ranting both on-stage and off and attacking Chris Matthews on "Hardball," while Colbert follows up with a sarcastic and bombastic jab at Miller's bizarre, outdated mindset. The show points out the troubles with each party, and gives it good to both, but it can't help but assault the G.O.P., as after four years in charge, there was plenty of material to work with.
Of course, while these episodes are focused on politics, one of the series' favorite targets gets it again and again: the media. These two conventions exposed the media for more faults than just about anyone else the camera is pointed at. Among the many jabs at the fourth estate, there is one involving NBC newsman Brian Williams and Al Sharpton that is absolutely jaw-dropping. For that bit alone, which exposes Williams as an empty-headed news-reader, this set is worth watching.
While Stewart has been established for some time, and the same can be said for Colbert, this set shows the three other reporters truly coming into their own on a national stage. Samantha Bee, Rob Corddry and Ed Helms all proved themselves to be highly capable of turning one of our countries most contentious elections into a complete and utter farce. Bee's sweet, innocent looks hide a truly twisted sense of humor, which allows her to catch her victims off-guard, while Corddry is a full-fledged comedic barrage, who comes at a story like a runaway train. His visit to his hometown of Boston is loaded with laughs that are built by his straightforward manner. Helmes is a balance of the other two, seemingly a newsman, but below that, a mental patient. The threesome, added to Stewart and Colbert, give the show one of its best line-ups ever.
This "Daily Show" collection is delivered on three DVDs, one for each of the two conventions, The Democratic National Convention: The Race Away From the White House and The Republican National Convention: Target New York, and a third with bonus features, which come packaged in three slipcased ThinPak cases. At 22-23 minutes per episode, there's just under 90 minutes of full-frame, TV-quality video on each of the first two discs, plus the short intros. I'm not one to argue when a series gets more disc space, but this really could have been produced as a two-disc set, and cost a bit less.
The first two discs have full-frame animated main menus which give episode selections, a play-all option and the opportunity to repeat the disc intro, while the first DVD has choices for the same DVD previews and Comedy Central Quickies found on the last few Comedy Central DVDs. The third disc has a static full-frame menu with animation that activates with menu selections.
The full-frame TV video looks just as I remember it, a mix of decent studio footage that mimics the look of any national network news broadcast, and on-location reports that tend to be as good as the conditions allow. Green-screen effects are very obvious, and some video noise is present, but overall, there's nothing to complain about. The audio, presented in Dolby Digital Stereo, is similarly good, but as this is a news/comedy show, and not a summer action blockbuster, you will not notice a thing about the soundtrack. That means it was done right.
Each of the three discs features an introduction before the main menu, one with Stewart, one with Colbert and one with Helms. The intros are good, but it's Colbert's, a look back at the now-defunct "The Daily Show" (it makes sense when you watch it), that is the absolute best. The producers were kind enough to include a menu option that's on-screen throughout the intro, so you aren't forced to watch it every time you put the disc in.
Except for the intros on each DVD, the third disc features all the extra features. The menu for the third disc features Stewart and the show's four main election reporters, who each have a little animation that plays when their section of the DVD is selected.
Two additional special episodes are found on this disc, one on Election Night 2004, "Prelude to a Recount," and one covering the first Presidential debates, "The Squabble in Coral Gables." The election night coverage is a bit depressing to anyone of the non-Republican/neocon persuasion, but funny enough to watch anyway. This is the closest the series ever has come to being a real news show, with an extended 43-minute episode. The debate episode, which was rife with chances for comedy, is also good, but a bit more intriguing, as Stewart actually calls people like Rudy Guiliani on their spin. When it takes a comedian acting like a newsman to be a good newsman, the whole system's in trouble.
Turning to the reporters, Helms has just one special feature to his name, along with the disc's intro. That piece, "Principle Spinner," shows Helms at his best as he comes to the stunning and crushing realization that the people at the debates might not be telling the truth when talking about their candidates.
Bee's section features two of her best election pieces, "Who Wants to Bee...a 527 Organization?" and "Block the Vote." These are very funny, especially Bee's mock attack ad on both Kerry and Bush. Each piece has an audio commentary with Bee and Helms, while the "Block the Vote" commentary features a special guest. Don't expect any serious discussion about the segment or even background info. These commentaries are just an excuse for more jokes. For that, we are grateful.
Colbert's area is possibly the most enjoyable off-kilter of the bunch, thanks to his un-PC segment "Minority Retort," in which he wrangles together a panel he calls his "rainbow," made up of randomly selected representatives of most every minority group, including "Gay Guy," "Black Guy" and "Jew." Also included are "Interviews I Could Get," which are his three- to five-minute sit-downs with Don King, Al Sharpton and Bob Graham. This is vintage Colbert, as he slickly makes fun of people right to their face.
Corddry's part of the disc has three pieces, two on Democratic debates and one on a PR tour by Bush cabinet secretaries. The debates are good, with Detroit's 8 Mile-themed piece being nicely over-the-top, while the tour coverage, done as if the tour was hosting a rock band instead of staid politicians, is great. The New York debate segment and the secretaries tour each have commentaries, which, again, have next to nothing to do with what's happening on-screen, but they are still quite funny. This time, it's Bee and Corddry doing the talking.
When choosing Stewart, you gain access to six additional bonus features, which are all quite good as well. "John Edwards Announces His Candidacy" isn't the funniest of the group, but it's historical and cute, while a Bob Wiltfong report, "Sticker Shock" is hysterical mainly for the way Wiltfong reacts to the story of a man whose jacket was ruined by an "I Voted" sticker.
Steve Carell, in, sadly, one of just two appearances on this DVD, is a riot in "Trail & Tribulations," as he visits a Howard Dean campaign stop. Him interviewing a campaign staffer in front of a blaring speaker is a sight to behold. Also quite good, and disturbing as well, is "Daily Show Rock! Presents: 'Midterm Elections'", an animated "Schoolhouse Rock" parody created by the guys behind the Robert Smigel cartoons on "Saturday Night Live."
"Continental Skiff Boat Oarsmen for Veracity" is a take-off on the attack ads against Kerry, this time defaming George Washington. Bee's bit as a trollop and Corddry's sheer annoyance at the portrait of Washington crossing the Delware, in which he completely drops the olde English joke, make this piece better than it might have been. Wrapping things up is the National Anthem, sung a cappella by the four reporters. Like the Edwards bit, it's not really funny, but it's cute.
The Bottom Line
Though I've always wanted to revisit the hilarious jokes of "The Daily Show," season sets are not only impossible due to the numerous episodes, they also wouldn't work, due to the timeliness of the jokes. A best-of collection like this, focused on a major historical event, is the perfect way to appreciate just what it is that "The Daily Show" does well. Though a three-disc set might make it seem like there's a lot going on in this collection, there's less than three hours of episodes spread over two of the discs, and a disc that has a decent amount of special features. On the positive side, what is on these DVDs is pure comedy genius. Fans of Stewart and his crew will find plenty to like about this set, but it will feel like something of a tease that's over way too soon.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.