Forgive me for sounding snootish, but I've had just about enough "sketch comedy" to last 11 lifetimes. I can barely make it through a full episode of Saturday Night Live, so I'm sure you can imagine how in love I am with SNL's louder, snottier, stupider little sister, the Fox-based skitfest known as MADtv.
You know how sometimes a certain SNL character will strike a chord and become rrrreally embraced by the popular culture? The Church Lady, Pat, Wayne & Garth, etc. These bits work so well when they're fresh because the comedians are trying hard to deliver the yuks. But by the time these recurring characters become pop-culture icons, then it's just a matter of trotting out the same old catch-phrases for an easily impressed (and frequently whooping) studio audience.
MADtv takes that "played out character" schtick and milks it for every last drop. Indeed, the show seems to exist as not much more than a framework for characters like "Stuart" (a freaky, keening manchild who likes to run around in a mini-speedo), "Marvin Tikvah" (a bulbous Jewish lech), and "Mrs. Swan," a mumbling Asian stereotype that's absolutely painful to behold. It's like the Madfolks are more interested in getting some of that catch-phrase T-shirt money and indulging their camera-hungry ways than putting together a smart and clever comedy review.
And when the well runs dry on the popular character stuff, the writers are content to toss up just any old schpiel, just so long as it includes at least three references to asses, farting, hairy genitalia, crotches, or hairy farting asses. The few bits of actual "satire" are helplessly wedged into a compilation of witless improvisation, desperate wacky-faced camera-mugging, and low-aiming bodily-function material. And don't let that howling audience fool you. MADtv's sketches are shot and re-shot before a live studio audience, and then (poorly) cobbled together into what everyone assumes is "the funniest bits."
Basically, I'm not a fan. I think the show employs several really talented folks, but has no freaking idea how to collate their skills into something that's consistently funny. It's not just that the humor in MADtv is painfully obvious and annoyingly predictable. It's that they go for the easy laugh every single time. Cuz nothing in the world is funnier than a grown man in an ill-fitting speedo, a white-trash moron woman who grunts and moans a lot, and fart jokes of any fashion. And not only is the material almost always limp and lazy, but the sketches invariably run ... on ... forever.
Even when the Madmen (and Madwomen) come up with something potentially amusing, like a spoof of ABC's Lost, the satirical potential is buried beneath a barrage of surface-level schtick. We're meant to laugh only at the physical appearance of the Lost lookalikes and the cast's broad and obvious swipes at the character traits, but there's no real attempt at satire here.
But, hey, if you're a big fan of the Mad-droppings, then here's a DVD you'll probably want to check out. It comes with just under three hours of "greatest hits" moments from MADtv's 8th, 9th, and 10th seasons -- and if I could just slip back into editorial mode for a second: If this collection represents the best of those three seasons, then I imagine that watching a normal Saturday night episode must be an amazingly depressing activity.
Anyway, here's what you're getting:
Reality Show Cameras
Ms. Swan: Valentine's Day
Video: The sketches are presented in their original fullscreen broadcast form, and picture quality is pretty solid throughout.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0.
Extras: 6.5 minutes of oh-so-hilarious "Stuart" outtakes, that you can watch with or without pointless commentary by "Stuart" inhabitant Michael McDonald.
Sorry to come off like a grumpy-ass, but the MADtv stooges sound a lot like those "class clown" types that'd do anything for attention. Once or twice a week they'd actually come up with something funny enough to deserve a legitimate laugh, but that's just an example of the law of averages, I guess.
Comedy's in the eye and ear of the beholder, of course, but in MADtv all I see is fart jokes, fat-suits, and a whole lot broad, simplistic slapstick. Rent It to see if I'm just a miserable old bastard who just can't appreciate a lukewarm batch of good ol' stupid humor.