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Paramount Home Video presents
"God, that was the stupidest thing we have ever done."
DVD ReviewAs expatriates of MTV's The State, Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, and David Wain went on to form the three-man comedy troupe Stella, which eventually reached its zenith in this, the 10-episode first season run of a 2005 Comedy Central series based on their stage act. The series tagline—"dumb comedy dressed up in a suit"—is simple and fitting, a seven-word description that pretty much spells it all out rather clearly. They wear suits and do dumb stuff.
For the Stella series, the premise has Black, Showalter, and Wain as the nearly perpetually suited roommates, existing in a bizarro world that has them doling out an endless stream of nonsensical sight gags, uttering off-the-wall dialogue or one-liners and performing increasingly juvenile actions in episodes that have the barest of barebones plots, such as them opening rival coffee shops or becoming paper boys. The tip in for the funny is the straight way Black, Showalter, and Wain play off each other, so that when we see them practicing their barbershop quartet (minus one) routine or building a house of cards with the intensity of a surgical procedure, it is clearly a gag that comes from nowhere, goes by quickly, and in all likelihood has no any bearing on any part of the meat of a given episode.
Kind of like a somewhat more surreal version of The Three Stooges, these guys inexplicably have girlfriends that live in the apartment below them, and as part of the tilted reality the women seem to accept the infantile behavior with little more than a sigh. And that's another element of the humor, in the way other people react with minor exasperation to buffoonish antics, because it just wouldn't be funny if they didn't show up to their new office job in tuxedos, take a six-hour lunch on their first day and ac as if they own the place. It's not comedy ensconced in any semblance of reality, so if you seek normalcy I advise you to look elsewhere.
So what's the curb appeal of Stella? On the surface, there's an interesting cross-section of other names involved here, including Susan Seidelman (Desperately Seeking Susan), who directs a pair of the show's best episodes (Office Party, Paper Route), and bit parts for the likes of Edward Norton (Pilot), Topher Grace (Paper Route), Alan Ruck (Coffee Shop), and Janeane Garofalo (Novel). But that's fairly minor overall, because the series is certainly more entrenched in the Monty Python realm, kibbled with a dash of the Marx Brothers and the riffing standup of Black, Showalter, and Wain, who play it off with oddly effeminate inter-relationships with one another—as just another strange layer of the show's skewed reality.
One has to be open to bursts of weird-to-be-weirdness in order to really fall in with the uneven rhythms of Stella, and my success rate in recommending this to others during its original run was quite low. I became used to the blank stares afterwards, the shoulder shrug that quietly said "you, sir, are an idiot." But I stayed the course, and not being particularly connected to all that much that is on television, I touted its praises when I could, bearing the continued brunt of the brush-offs and headshakes.
And now I offer that same challenge to you.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: All 10 episodes are presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The overall transfers seem a bit dark, with colors never appearing especially bright. Image detail is on the soft side, as well, peppered with some moderate grain and a few instances of shimmer.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: Nothing particularly noteworthy about the Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio transfer, but it is more than serviceable, delivering clear voice quality and a pleasing tone to the show's theme music. This isn't a series that necessitates anything flashy in the audio department, and the mix here reflects that.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 40 cues and remote access
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring South Park: Season Eight, Windy City Heat, Strangers With Candy: The Complete Series, Reno 911: Season Three
50 Deleted Scenes
10 Feature/Episode commentaries by Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, David Wain
Extras Review: Packaging is two clear plastic Thinpak cases inside a cardboard slipcase, with the inner case artwork having one sentence episode descriptions. Each episode is cut into 4 chapters.
As for extras, all episodes come with commentary tracks from Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, and David Wain. Surprisingly, the content is rather straightforward, with much less pure goofing around than I was expecting. There is some wackiness, as when they analyze why Michael Showalter's character pours nearly an entire jar of syrup on his pancakes ("The guy can't get enough syrup") in Paper Route. And there is a funny weirdness when they mock dissect the plot points of each episode, as if it had some hidden deep meaning; but mostly there's talk of episode writing, restructuring gags, set building and an even a nod to what they refer to as a "Happy Days" moment when a secondary character is suddenly introduced with no explanation.
Disc 1 also carries The History of Stella (41m:58s), with the three guys sitting around casually tracing their history, sprinkled with clips from student films, their standup act, etc. At one point Wain mentions, in a very serious tone, that Comedy Central execs wondered before the pilot was shot if they could make a show that didn't involve them "dry humping each other or sucking on a dildo," which then leads into a very bizarre clip involving a large number of rubber appendages.
Also on Disc 1 are three Comedy Central Quickies, which are basically commercial/interstitials for South Park: The Pack Leader (02m:09s), Reno 911!: Sweet Booty (02m:22s), and The Colbert Report: Truthiness (02m:38s), and a miscellaneous set of trailers.
Over on Disc 2, in addition to the remaining commentaries, there is a bloopers short (13m:27s) and a deleted scenes reel (13m:53s) with nearly 50 cut gags, some just a quick line or two, and some simply variations on one another. A nice plus is the inclusion of Comedy Central Presents: Stella (20m:58s), the 2004 special featuring the stage routine that eventually morphed into the series.
Disc 2 also has at least three easter eggs, including the short Bar (03m:16s), a clip featuring the guys screaming "It's Friday night!" over and over with different intonations (01m:06s), and a collection of Stella commercials (02m:36s).
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsComedy Central pretty much had it right referring to this as "dumb comedy dressed up in a suit" and it works for me. When this show aired in 2005, I recommended it to a number of people who afterwards told me it was the stupidest thing they had ever seen.
But yet why did it make me laugh so hard? Your mileage may vary.
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