"Mad TV" always was the "also ran" to "Saturday Night Live", even as the latter started to fizzle in recent years. Still, "Mad" ran 14 seasons and, despite mixed reviews, the series really did gain some steam around the middle of the show's run, with a weak first season or two and a weak last few seasons.
The fourth season is when the series started to really get its footing, with the series successfully starting up a number of new recurring characters and offering up writing that was sharper, funnier and really more consistent. Mary Scheer, Chris Hogan, and Lisa Kushell left the show. Andrew Bowen and Mo Collins joined as repertory players, with Michael McDonald as a featured player. With a stronger core cast, the series really shines at times this season.
Sasso, on the other hand, remains one of the best things about the show's run. This season sees Sasso's hysterical Steven Segal parody get a little sharper and stronger, with a highlight being "One True Impact", an action drama focusing on Segal and Jean Claude Van Damme (Andrew Bowen)'s father issues. Sasso's Kenny Rogers' bit also continues to entertain mightily, although not as much as when Sasso's Rogers veers more into drunkenness later in the series. Still, his appearances as Rogers get big laughs this time around, especially in an opening bit late in the season with Aries Spears as James Brown. Sasso also gives Bill Clinton and Randy Newman a spin this time around, to excellent results. Sasso was part of one controversial moment in the season when doing a skit with wrestler Bret Hart, where Hart actually did attack Sasso (the two reappeared later in the season for an arm-wrestling rematch.)
One of the more underrated sketches in the series isn't actually character-driven - it's the Spishak infomercials for horrendous products. The fake ads are delightful parodies of late-night infomercials, including radioactive Christmas lights. Some of the new recurring characters this season became some of the show's most popular, especially the duo of mother Doreen (Collins) and man-child Stuart (McDonald). McDonald also debuts the delightfully sleazy and creepy Hollywood producer Marvin Tikvah.
While I was never as entertained by Ms Swan as most seemed to be, Borstein certainly delivered elsewhere on the show, like during her parodies of Rosie O'Donnell, seen here in a skit where she's interviewed by Howard Stern (Pat Kilbane.) Ms. Swan is also seen fairly frequently, although none of the bits are quite as amusing as the bit working the character into "The X-Files" int the prior season.
"Mad TV" really gets going in this fourth season, with some great new characters, solid performances and more consistent laughs. The series may have played second fiddle to "SNL" during its run, but the show really did keep up with its competition at times.
This set includes all 25 episodes.
Video/Audio: Shout Factory! Offers the series in 1.33:1 full-frame. Image quality is reasonably good, considering the production and age. The picture looks somewhat on the softer side throughout the series, although again, it's similar to how the show originally looked on basic TV. The 2.0 audio is just what one would expect from basic, sitcom audio on a show that's well over a decade old at this point. In other words, not a whole lot.
Extras: Nothing. Would have been nice to get at least a featurette or deleted scenes or other material. A cast reunion commentary for a couple of episodes would have been fun and sold a few DVDs, but oh well.
Final Thoughts: "Mad TV" really gets going in this fourth season, with some great new characters, solid performances and more consistent laughs. The series may have played second fiddle to "SNL" during its run, but the show really did keep up with its competition at times. The DVD, on the other hand, is bare basics, with satisfactory audio/video and no extras. Recommended for fans.