Pop culture is an ever-evolving entity that survives by feeding on its own. The tradition has been that what is popular today is fodder for ridicule tomorrow--though, in today's world of instant entertainment, that can be dialed up to what's popular today being ridiculed today. Parody is as parody does.
There is always something pleasing, then, about comedy that looks farther back, that is taking a wider aim in order to hit topics that are older than five minutes ago. It's particularly inviting when the people behind the comedy are of your generation, and they grew up on the things you grew up on. Part of why, for instance, Trey Parker and Matt Stone bust me up is because they saw all the same television shows and bad 1980s movies I saw, and so when they crack wise, it's a wisdom I understand. The same can be said about The Sarah Silverman Program, a show that is simultaneously a sitcom and a lampooning of the same. Its aim is to make fun of the cheeseball shows of yesteryear, including "After School Specials" and other children's programming. When Sarah says she was going for a 1970s Sesame Street vibe in the episode "Making New Friends on the new Season 2, Volume 2 collection, I can nod and say, "Yes, I know what you mean, Sarah. I saw those, too."
What makes The Sarah Silverman Program even better is that it uses these old formats as a way to critique current social mores and make subversive commentaries on whatever the writers find ridiculous about life in the 21st Century.
With Sarah Silverman as your star and inspiration, it's hard to go wrong. Silverman's persona, which she has cultivated through years of stand-up comedy, is that she is oblivious to the world around her, inherently selfish, and thus prone to say anything. A taboo subject exists only for her to put her spin on it. And so, racism, sex, politics, and religion all get filtered through her system, and the trick is, when the jokes come out, the way she says "It's all about me" somehow ends up being a comment on the rest of us, even if it's just in how we react. Our shock is her punchline. Nothing is off limits, nothing is too gross. Silverman is as amused by bodily functions and excretions as the most puerile and adolescent among us. In a way, she's just one of the guys, but in her usual fashion, she can twist it again and makes that all about being a girl. I think that's why most guys I know, including myself, crush on her pretty hard.
The Sarah Silverman Program usually revolves around Sarah getting into some trouble, which her sister Laura (played by Sarah's real-life sister, Laura Silverman) and her boyfriend, police officer Jay (Jay Johnston), then have to bail her out of. There is usually a side plot, and that most often involves Sarah's gay, pot-smoking neighbors, Steve and Brian (Steve Agee and Brian Posehn). Sometimes this switches, and Steven and Brian are caught up in Sarah's mess, and Laura and Jay get their own subplot. Anything can happen on this show. There are regularly musical numbers, often making fun of earnest educational videos, and there are also animated sequences. We're talking about a sitcom where the main character once had sex with God himself, so Osama Bid Laden appearing this season should surprise no one who has been keeping up.
All of the cast is really funny. Posehn has always had an odd delivery. He's like one of those giant human-sized Muppets. He and Agee clearly have fun riffing off one another. The unsung hero may be Jay Johnston, whose character is the uptight square that regularly gets made fun of by the others. For all intents and purposes, his is the annoying neighbor/killjoy role, but in the Sarah Silverman universe, that concept becomes as Dadaist as everything else. Johnston plays it more absurd than the rest by playing his bits kind of straight, adding subtle tics to his delivery that really push the material over the top. Laura Silverman is the straight man of the group, and she is cute and sweet. It's still Sarah Silverman's show all the way, but give the actress credit, she isn't afraid to assemble a group that has every potential of upstaging her.
I was a bit confused about why this was The Sarah Silverman Program: Season Two, Vol. 2. I know the two halves aired quite a bit apart; in fact, the DVD for Season Two, Vol. 1 came out in October, 2008. That disc had 6 episodes, and apparently they were filmed before the writer's strike a couple of years ago. Comedy Central went ahead and aired them, but the full order was for 16 episodes. When the strike was over, they had the crew fulfill the rest of their commitment. Somewhere up the chain it was decided this would be Season 2.2 rather than go straight to 3 (which just started airing a couple of weeks ago).
So, The Sarah Silverman Program: Season Two, Vol. 2 2-disc set has 10 episodes, 4 on DVD 1, 6 on DVD 2. These are on the discs in their original broadcast order, despite the episode #s being all wonky in the packaging. For instance, the first show on disc 1 is listed as #213, while the last one on that disc is #207. I assume these digits refer to the production order and they arranged in a different order for broadcast later.
The episodes on DVD 1 are:
* High, It's Sarah: In which Brian introduces Sarah to the benefits of marijuana, and when they stumble across a corporate conspiracy, they take a CEO hostage (he's played by Garry Marshall). In the subplot, Jay has a wet dream about a local news reporter and feels guilty. (Commentary: Steve Agee, director Wayne McClammy)
* Mongolian Beef: Believing their ancestors were raped by Mongols, Sarah and Laura decide to sue the Mongolian nation. Later, at a Back to School-style party, good times win out--especially thanks to the great fake Oingo Boingo tribute band. Also, Steve makes amateur videos. (Commentary: Sarah Silverman, Laura Silverman, producer/director Rob Schrab, producer/writer Daniel Sterling)
* Make New Friends: Sarah ditches her old friends and tries to make new ones, only to return to the originals when she finds out the grass is not always greener. Plus, Steve gets huge man boobs because he smokes too much weed. This show feature an awesome musical sequence, the one that parodies '70s Sesame Street (as referenced above). (Commentary: Steve Agee, Wayne McClammy)
* Patriot Tact: Sarah becomes obsessed with making sure people remember 9/11 and does her best to capture Osama Bin Laden wherever he may be hiding in California. This one is pretty out there, and also pretty shockingly hilarious. Joe Lo Truglio and Fred Armisen guest as possible Bin Ladens. (Commentary: Sarah Silverman, Laura Silverman, Rob Schrab, Daniel Sterling)
The episodes on DVD 2 are:
* Pee: Sarah battles adult bedwetting, but the show is most memorable for Brian's ridiculously long beard getting stuck in an escalator. He spends most of the episode on his stomach, trying not to rip his beard off. Eventually, he does, and it's super gross! Adam Carolla guest stars. (Commentary: Sarah Silverman, Rob Schrab, Daniel Sterling)
* There's No Place Like Homeless: Sarah runs into an old acquaintance who is homeless, and she decides she digs the homeless lifestyle and tries it out. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar makes an appearance. (Commentary: Steve Agee, Brian Posehn, Jay Johnston)
* Fetus Don't Fail Me Now: One of the funnier episodes involves Sarah realizing that her nine months of weight gain has been a result of a pregnancy. Also, Brian and Steve simultaneously throw their backs out and get stuck in the bathroom together. There are some blistering jokes making fun of the abortion debate, so look out! Also, check the cool animation when Sarah finally gives birth. Dick Van Patten guest stars, and Earthworm Jim creator Doug TenNapel contributed to the animation. (Commentary: Sarah Silverman, Rob Schrab, Daniel Sterling)
* I Thought My Dad Was Dead, But It Turns Out He's Not: As the title implies, Sarah and Laura's dad (comedian Mark Cohen) turns out to never have died. Sarah and the old man form a Lisa Loeb tribute band, and Loeb even makes a cameo. Christopher Eccelston also makes a cameo as a Dr. Who-type sci-fi hero that Brian is obsessed with. (Commentary: Wayne McClammy, Steve Agee)
* Kangamangus: Sarah and Brian compete, trying to introduce their own made-up slang words into the popular lexicon. Stephen Root is as funny as he always is in a bit part. (Commentary 1: Steve Agee, Brian Posehn, Jay Johnston / Commentary 2: Rob Schrab, Daniel Sterling)
* Vow Wow: Sarah decides to marry her dog. Hmm, wonder what current social issue inspired this one...? (Commentary: Rob Schrab, Daniel Sterling)
That's a lot of crazy ground covered here. It's hard to say how long Sarah Silverman can keep her act going. In a world where even Small Wonder is being released on DVD, it feels like TV parody has looped itself. Hipster irony is almost Zen in the way it decimates all jokes by making it so everyone--and, in turn, no one--is in on the gag. Still, right now, the comedian and her team are on a roll, and these shows had me howling. Sometimes I laughed because it was uncomfortable, sometimes I laughed because I couldn't believe my eyes, but most of the time, it was because The Sarah Silverman Program: Season Two, Vol. 2 is just plain funny.
The Sarah Silverman Program: Season Two, Vol. 2 was shot in full screen, and the image quality on the DVDs is really good. The resolution is crisp, and there were no problems with tracers or jagged edges.
The audio is mixed in Dolby Digital stereo. There is nothing extraordinary about the soundtrack. This is pretty much on par with your average television show.
English Closed Captioning is available.
DVD 1 has less episodes, but more extras. It features 18 short films, 53 minutes in total, that ran online. These are essentially behind-the-scenes featurettes that talk about specific episodes, showing how scenes were put together, deleted material, backstage shenanigans, and even concept art and storyboards. One of the snippets is just Silverman and Agee introducing the blog, another is a trailer for the season. The most creative is a music track put together with pre-shot slates.
DVD 2 has three animated webisodes, about 10 minutes all together. One features the weird bull character used in the background on the show, another is a cute Sarah adventure that is like a Saturday morning cartoon (she has a wish-granting purse!), and the third also parodies cartoons, showing Steve and Brian going on adventures. All the actors voice themselves.
All the episodes have commentaries, and one even has two. All feature a rotating roster of cast and creative staff. See the rundown above for who appears on what. Each one, of course, has some fun facts specific to the episode in question, but it does turn to overkill after a while. Why not get some of the guest stars in? Fred Armisen, for instance, could have been funny and shared a different perspective as someone coming in from the outside.
The Sarah Silverman Program: Season Two, Vol. 2 comes in a clear plastic case. It's the size of a regular DVD case, but it has a tray on each side of the interior. The actual paper cover is printed on both sides, with episode info being on the inside.
The Sarah Silverman Program is rude, crude, mad, bad, dangerous to know, and whatever other outlandish synonym for crazy and/or subversive you want to throw at it. It's also consistently damn funny, finding new ways to build parodies of traditional sitcoms around the oh so charming and hilarious Sarah Silverman persona. No topic is too taboo, no plotline too risqué, and yet it all manages to be hilarious and incisive. Sure, Sarah can gross you out by making out with her dog, but she also might make you think about how we love one another, too. Does that blow your mind? Then The Sarah Silverman Program: Season Two, Vol. 2 is Highly Recommended for you.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the superhero series It Girl and the Atomics and the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.