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THE STATE
The Complete Series

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars/Creators: Kevin Allison, Michael Ian Black, Robert Ben Garant, Todd Holoubek, Michael Patrick Jann, Kerri Kenney-Silver, Thomas Lennon, Joe Lo Truglio, Ken Marino, Michael Showalter, David Wain
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0
Video: Full Screen 1.33:1
Studio: Paramount/MTV
Features: See Review
Length: 514 Minutes
Release Date: July 14, 2009

“Lois & Clark will return after Gilbert & Sullivan’s production of Jack & Diane starring Siegfried & Roy, but first, Barry & Levon.”

Shows ****

The early 90s was definitely the point when MTV decided to branch out and officially become more than an outlet for music videos. It took some getting used to for those who simply tuned in to the channel to get nothing but music. Ironically enough, two great things came as a result of MTV’s new direction; the first was Beavis and Butt-head, the second (and even greater one) was The State.

Here was sketch comedy at its most unhinged. Though it seemed inspired by the likes of Monty Python and The Kids in the Hall, The State was operating on a whole different level of random gags and all out zaniness.  It was a series so out there and demented in its comedy, it even managed to stick out amongst the network’s already unusual lineup of new shows like Liquid Television, Aeon Flux and MTV Sports (the last of which was included because, no matter how cool extreme sports or host Dan Cortese were considered at the time, MTV and SPORTS are two words that should never go together).

The show lasted four all too quick seasons before departing in 1995, at which point it was already a cult favorite amongst the teenage/college crowd. The performers on the show were all unknowns at the time, but would later resurface in such renowned comedy foundations such as Upright Citizens Brigade, Stella and Reno 911! Some alumni from the show even reunited for such film comedies as Wet Hot American Summer and The Ten, both of which had bizarre ingredients of hilarity straight from The State.

The genius of this show was evident right from the first sketch on the first episode, called The Lenny Lipton Show. Lipton is the talk show host who never stops breathing, due to the fact the he, along with his co-host and studio audience, runs around outdoors while interviewing guests who can keep up. The first guest of the show, the lead singer of the Spin Doctors, runs into a tree three seconds into the interview.

And the show never lets up from that hilarious opening bit. There are so many classic bits throughout its four season run, including a cereal commercial with a language all its own (duh-duh), chair wrestling (as in the chair is one of the opponents), a Pyramid-like game show scenario with Sid and Nancy, and “On the Table”, a debate show that really gets to the bottom of issues (“What is art?”, “Like…pictures and stuff.”). Other highlights include the ever-so-memorable Barry and Levon who indulge in their $240 worth of pudding (that’s a WHOLE lotta pudding!), a copy store robbery where the store clerk mimics every word and action of the robber, a reenactment of The Nutcracker in a small room and a special TV offer for the music collection Hits From the 70s, which features such classics as “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” (That last joke will only be funny when viewed in context, though I still had to mention it).

Perhaps the one sketch from that I’ll forever remember, mainly because it was my first exposure to the series, was a dead on spoofing of the then inexplicably popular MTV Sports. This sketch will be funny only to those familiar with that show and, in particular, host Dan Cortese, who was always less of a host and more of an over-enthusiastic funnyman. Cortese’s antics are brilliantly skewered, as he takes a look at the extreme sport of golf, annoying two snobby country club players within seconds. This is quite possibly my favorite sketch of the series, because it actually makes me laugh even harder than when I first saw it.

Many fans, like myself, have long awaited this show’s arrival on DVD, which after several delays seemed unlikely to ever happen. But at long last, The State has finally arrived in its entirety. Friends, the long wait was definitely worth it!

Much to my surprise, the biggest joy in finally getting to revisiting the series in its entirety is the fact that none of it feels dated. Ok, if we’re talking 90s fashion and pop culture, it may feel a bit dated, but the brand of comedy that made the show the landmark series that it was still has an edginess to it, which no series like it has been able to measure up to. The State was truly ahead of its time.

Video ***

I was incredibly impressed with the fine re-mastering job Paramount has given to this early 90s series. The show is presented in its original full screen presentation. While some bits do still give of low budget, camcorder-like feel (which couldn’t have been avoided), many segments look and feel like they were done recently on account of how clear and crisp the picture quality is.

Audio ***1/2

I came close to smacking myself in the face in order to snap out of my hallucination, because I knew there was no way a Dolby 2.0 mix could make a 16 year old show sound this good. The dynamic opening music has never sounded more engaging. Every bit of word delivery is captured terrifically, whether the sketch is in a live studio or previously filmed. It should also be mentioned that an issue with music rights is what was delaying the release of the DVD. Back then, MTV was allowed to use whatever music they wanted to in a series. While some songs remain intact, the theme song’s composer, Craig Wedren, has provided new fill-in music, which doesn’t detract from the value whatsoever.

Features ****

Paramount and MTV have served up a 5-Disc package that is definitely going to please fans everywhere. To start off with, every single one of the 24 episodes contains a commentary track with all 11 cast members, which are all informative and quite hilarious as you’d expect. What’s more, all of the remaining extras can be found spread out across each disc. Among them, you’ll find everything from outtakes to extended sketches to interview segments. On Disc Five, the Bonus Disc, we get even more, including over 90 minutes worth of unaired sketches over the course of the first three seasons, as well as the Pilot episode, all of which include optional commentary with cast members Kevin Allison, Todd Holoubek, Joe Lo Truglio, Michael Patrick Jann, Ken Marino, Michael Showalter and David Wain. Also included are a collection of special appearances from the cast, which includes The Jon Stewart Show, MTV’s “Shut Up and Laugh, Panama City”, “Spring Break Safety Tips” and an MTV Christmas Party Video. Lastly, there are six promo clips.

Summary:

The State remains not only one of the greatest accomplishments in MTV’s history, but a groundbreaking presentation of sketch comedy. And it’s as funny and edgy now as it was when it first aired. This DVD collection is a true must have for dedicated fans of this cult hit, in addition to those who appreciate any of the cast members current comedy projects.

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