Funny or Die Presents: Season One
HBO // Unrated // $29.98 // January 11, 2011
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted January 1, 2011
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Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Half the comedians in this series, sketch comedy
Likes: Funny or Die (the site)
Dislikes: Comedy that's too hip for the room
Hates: Overly-long sketches

The Show
This means nothing, but the first time I saw the URL I thought it was Funny Ordie, and thought that was a weird name for a web site. Anyway, I've watched plenty of videos from Will Ferrell and Adam McKay's web baby, and in 2010, the concept made the leap from the web to TV with a weekly half-hour series on HBO, presenting exclusive non-web material, dryly hosted by Ed Haligan, Head of West Coast Sales and Marketing (Steve Tom, Prison Break). The episodes try to craft the idea that you're watching the Funny or Die network, complete with a channel guide and bumpers between segments. Some episodes are made up of several bits, while others are dedicated to just one or two offerings, making each show its own unique presentation.

Though they are unique, unfortunately, a lot of it is just not very funny. It's actually shocking to see a show loaded with incredible comedy talent fall so incredibly flat. Using the standard of enjoying sketches that at least made me smile, I counted 13 high-quality bits out of 12 episodes, and those 13 bits are from just five unique concepts (there are many recurring segments in the series.) Yes, there are OK sketches throughout that won't make you yawn or violently assault your TV, but OK is simply unacceptable when you're watching a line-up featuring Chris Parnell, Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, Zack Galafianakis, Will Ferrell, Paul Scheer, Rob Heubel, Will Forte, Tim Meadows and Bob Odenkirk (and many others.) Sure, they aren't in every sketch (and not even every episode) but you certainly should be laughing far more frequently than you do here.

Frequently, the problem is a matter of pacing, as concepts just drag on, a problem made worse when a sketch is spread over several shows. I really wanted to like "Designated Driver," the four-part story that starts in the first episode and ends in the 11th. After all, it stars Rob Riggle and Scheer, two very funny guys, and the idea isn't bad, as Scheer is the put-upon friend, acting as designated driver to his obnoxiously drunk pal. With tighter editing, this would have been a really fun short film, but instead it's sectioned up and wedged in, to the point where you just want it to end. You've also got "Sleeping with Celebrities," a payoff-free bit of static annoyance that repeats four times, and the episode-long "The Carpet Brothers" which is only saved by Ferrell and Meadows' performances and the great commercial gags (and is buried by the lack of an ending.) Even Tim and Eric, who are so consistently funny on their show, can't cope with the timing issues, with three of their four bits falling short of hilarious ("The Morning Prayer with Skott and Behr" is amazing though.)

But if you want the ultimate in awful pacing, it's "One Thousand Cats," a PBS parody starring Brett Gelman, a comic of some reknown, as an actor portraying the titular felines, one or a few at a time. At over 12 minutes, it contains zero laughs. Not a one. The joke seems to be one of endurance, stretching a gag well beyond its breaking point, but it was never funny to begin with. It might have worked if you split it up and put it at the top and bottom of the show, and between sketches, (which wouldn't work with this show's format) but as it is, it points to the show's main issue. If you put this sketch on the site, no one would watch it, but in bringing the site to TV, they ignored the reasons why people enjoy their material online.

When you get past the really dismal stuff, like the abnormally bad Mike O'Connell songs, or the mildly amusing segments, like the goofy "Space Baby" or Andrea Savage's "Casual Sex," there are some definite gems. The funny stuff gets in and gets out quickly, like the excellent "Playground Politics," where international relations are played-out by kids to perfections, or the clever "Edited for TV" sketch by Slovin and Allen, which has fun with the idea of censorship in terms of language and nudity. "The Amazing Adventures of David & Jennie" is a touch longer, but still very funny, as David Neher and Jennie Pierson's madcap (and frankly adorable) sense of humor is a perfect fit for the concept. Pierson's smiling face is like a punchline unto itself (and that's not an insult at all.)

Oddly though, the best sketches are actually the longest, the four-part "Holdup," set during a bank robbery. Part of it is the incredibly talented cast, which includes Heubel, Ed Helms, Malin Ackerman, Tom Lennon, Rachel Harris, Jerry Minor, Ian Roberts, Kate Walsh and Creed Bratton, but the story is great as well, split up quite well between the four parts, so each stands on its own, in addition to being a great overall concept. Lennon is, as usual, fantastic as the coked-up bank manager, while Helms shows again why he remains one of the best parts of The Office. Perhaps they should have split up this all-star roster and spread them out over a few more sketches so that there could be more funny and less die.

The DVDs
The first season of Funny or Die Presents is split over two DVDs, which are packed in a standard keepcase with a tray for the second disc and an insert listing the contents of each episode. The discs feature animated, anamorphic widescreen menus offering options to watch all the episodes, select shows and adjust the set-up (inside of the episode selections, you can select individual segments. Audio options include English Dolby Digital 5.1 and French 2.0, while subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French, along with closed captioning.

The Quality
The anamorphic widescreen transfers look excellent, capturing the variety of looks on the show, including the film, video, animation and whatever the heck it is that Tim and Eric do. There were no noticeable issues with dirt, damage or compression artifacts (unless they were intended to be there) and the level of fine detail was quite high (where the original source allowed for it.) Overall, a quality presentation.

The audio is delivered by Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks that are nicer than you might expect for a comedy series, with some separation between the center and surround speakers, with enhanced music and sound effects fed to the sides and rear. There's nothing dynamic about the mix, but the boost for the atmospherics and music helps the sound.

The Extras
There's not an extra to be had. Keep piling on the disappointment, boys!

The Bottom Line
If you bring together so many popular, well-known comic actors under a banner known for delivering great sketch content, you'd better deliver some top-notch material, or you're bound to be a disappointment to your fans, which is the case here, outside of a select few moments of greatness. Though the DVDs look and sound great, there's no extras to be had, so there's more of a let=down to cope with. You may want to give it a rental to check out the good stuff, but don't torture yourself with the rest. It's just not worth it.

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