In 10 Words or Less
The best kids show for adults
Likes: "Wonder Showzen", Robert Goulet
Dislikes: Gross-out comedy
Once upon a time, Comedy Central made the kinds of shows you couldn't get anywhere else, like "Viva Variety" or "Upright Citizens Brigade." Now, when you get more cartoons, more competition shows and more remakes of stuff you've seen before, it makes you wonder if they have another "TV Funhouse" in them. While we wait, possibly fruitlessly, we can look back and remember the classic, short-lived kids show parody that brought us "Porn for Kids."
Though most will think of the animated segments on "SNL" when they hear the name "TV Funhouse," this show is a bit different. First off, there are animated bits, but they are far from the focus. The spotlight is instead on our host, the somewhat simple Doug, and the Anipals, an aggressive gaggle of anti-social animal puppets similar to Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. Each episode has a special theme, like "Christmas Day" or "Caveman Day," but only Doug cares anything about it. Like old kids shows, the hosted segments are paced out by short filmed bits or cartoons, which creates variety that makes each episode fly by.
Created by Robert Smigel and Dino Stamatopoulos, the show lives up to a pedigree that boasts the popular "SNL" shorts and "Mr. Show," by creating a dark parody of Saturday morning television, right down to the infectious theme song and accompanying animation. Done in an oddly unsophisticated style, the puppetry on the Anipals adds to feel of the show, especially when they are paired with real animals, which makes it seem like cheaply-produced local children's television. Despite the crude look of most of the characters, or perhaps because of it, seeing them act like real, though despicable people is extremely funny, whether they are getting high on distilled Christmas cheer or getting jobs as cosmetics testing subjects.
But despite the twisted fun of the main show, most everyone either remembers or will want to check out this series because of the shorts included, which are so brilliant you probably mistakenly think you saw them on "SNL." Just a short list shows how great the animation was on this show: "Stedman," which casts Oprah's boyfriend as a fake secret agent who concocts missions to avoid being intimate with her, "Mischievous Mitchell," an anti-Semitic take-off of Dennis the Menace, the '70s-inspired adventure "The Black Sabbath Show," and the excellent "The Baby, The Immigrant and the Guy on Mushrooms," which is genius in its simplicity. Even the live-action shorts are great, like "Mnemonics - Your Dear, Dear Friend," the very dark "Policeman" and the fantastic "The Safety Gang," which may be the best use of child actors I've ever seen.
Though there's no real weak episodes, there are certainly bits that stand out above the rest. As far as individual bits go, the Michael Kupperman animations, which capture his style and sense of humor well, are great, along with "Kidder, Downey & Heche: Private Trespassing Investigators" an awesome, though dated piece making fun of the three celebrities who had trouble staying out of other people's homes. Episode highlights include the two-part trip to Atlantic City by the Anipals, where they meet up with a self-parodying Robert Goulet and the great Triumph, and "Mexicans Day," which is great for two particular reasons. Number one is "Fetal Scooby Doo" which is so bizarrely silly it takes a one-note joke and makes it work terrifically. The second is "Jokamel," which starts out as a joke about marketing cigarettes to kids, and morphs into a puerile pile of sex jokes that amazes in terms of its obviousness. It's the willingness of the show to go to any length for a joke that makes these eight episodes so memorable, and makes it likely that eight episodes was probably just enough.
The eight episodes of "TV Funhouse" are split between two DVDs, which are packed in a slipcased pair of clear ThinPaks with episode descriptions. The discs feature terrific animated menus designed to mimic childhood memories, with options to play all the episodes, select shows and check out the special features. There are no audio options and no subtitles, though there is closed captioning.
The full-frame transfers on these episodes are solid, but look like the basic cable video images they are. The colors are good, though not very vivid, and though there's not much video noise evident (at least in the lighter scenes), there's some noticeable haloing. There aren't any obvious issues with digital artifacts, but the image isn't as sharp as you might expect. Even so, the level of detail is pretty high, and the episodes look at least as good as you might remember, and probably a notch better.
The audio is presented as straightforward Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks, and they sound the way you'd expect a basic-cable series from 2000 to sound, which is pretty much right-down-the-middle, with clear, distortion-free dialogue and music. The mix is simple, but it does the job, letting you hear every filthy joke, in all its uncensored glory.
The big extra is a set of eight audio commentaries with Smigel, Stamatopoulos and host Doug Dale (series writer and "Monk" creator Andy Breckman pops in for a hello as well.) The tracks (which seem to have been recorded in 2006, as there's a mention of "Ladysmith Black Mambazo in Outer Space" airing recently) are friendly chats focusing on edits made to the show, stories from the production of the series and some behind-the-scenes technical stuff as well. The only thing that's annoying about these tracks is the frequent mention of footage and clips to be included on the DVDs. Unfortunately, we didn't get more than half the stuff mentioned, so this isn't the total package it could be.
Another commentary, of sorts, is included, with four of the Anipals, Chickie, Jason, Xabu and Dave. This one isn't quite a commentary, as you watch the puppets watch the show on an editing bay. It's not a complete episode, with just under seven minutes of footage, and it mainly consists of them screwing around.
More interesting is the making-of footage from the Anipals segments, including a lengthy attempt to get a penis joke to work, that's really quite ridiculous. There's almost eight minutes of unused footage that's called "outtakes" on the menu, but is really just production clips. There's more complete examples of this in the two behind-the-scenes clips, which show how two scenes were shot, and an un-aired segment of "What Do We Know," the Bob Odenkirk-hosted clueless documentary sketch.
A couple of less-connected clips are on Disc Two, as you get two Triumph appearances, from the Rob Reiner roast and "The Daily Show." They're funny if you like Triumph, but they feel a bit like filler on these DVDs.
The set also includes some DVD previews and Comedy Central Quickies.
The Bottom Line
Take the most popular part of "SNL"'s most-recent history and combine it with an excellent parody of kids programming, and the result is a short-lived series with some extremely funny highlights that any fan of grown-up comedy will enjoy. The DVDs look and sound as good as they likely could, and feature a healthy dose of extras, through it seems there was more than what we are given. If you've enjoyed an episode of "Ambiguously Gay Duo" in your time, this is a must watch. If anything, the chance to hear George Wendt say "sweet p***y cancer," without a bleep, is one you can't pass up.
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.