As we transition from Christmas to New Years, I find myself falling back on many traditional behaviors this time of year. One of which is my habit of going into a DVD-buying frenzy as I take advantage of stock clearing sales throughout the many stores I frequent. Over the past two days, I have delighted in many a bargain on DVD’s, Blu rays, and Box Sets alike. One such post-holiday purchase is a forgotten gem of a t.v. series that aired on ABC back in 1996 : The Dana Carvey Show.
Toted by many critics as being “ahead of its time”, it was a sketch program that aired only 7 episodes in Prime Time (following Home Improvement and was a lead it to NYPD Blue) on ABC and helped to launch the careers of both Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell. In 2009, a 2 disc boxset was released by Shout Factory and has been on a short list of “DVDs I mean to pick up” ever since. I finally bit the bullet and got a copy for myself. When it initially aired, I saw a few episodes and remembered it being a fun time. Did my memory serve well? After watching the complete series, I can honestly say that it wasn’t far off the mark.
From the outset, the show serves as a snapshot of mid-90’s humor which ends up being a double-edged sword for viewing it in present day. While the performances by the cast are spot on, a lot of the comedy is topical. There is a great deal of attention shown to the 1996 election. A couple of commercial parodies are take-offs on ad campaigns from the time that have left my memory completely. Thankfully the material within these sketches does not fully rely on a recollection of that year to be funny. That being said, a Bob Dole joke can only go so far these days.
On the flip side, the character-based comedy holds up pretty well. A Hockey Goalie who trains even when there’s no one to play him, a couple of Skinheads from Maine, and a spoof of the Beatles Anthology are all still worth a laugh. The best re-ocurring sketch from the series stars Carvey and Carell and was written by Louis CK. It involves a duo of pranksters – just two guys planning to pull a fast one on everyone they meet. The problem is they don’t understand the concept. Instead of say, going to a fast food restaurant and taking the food without paying, they’ll pay for the food and drive off before it’s served to them. They repeat this plunder at gas stations, the movies, and even with a hooker. It seems like a pretty simple sketch, but that’s what makes it work. Carell’s performance takes it from a good sketch to a great sketch as his maniacal laughter and excitement is infectious. It’s the one sketch that everyone who I’ve talked to about this show remembers. There’s a reason for that – ‘Cause it’s that damn good. The show also served as the birthplace of Ace and Gary, better known as the Ambiguously Gay Duo, a cartoon created by Robert Smigel that would later find fame on Saturday Night Live.
After seeing this series as a whole, I fully agree wit the speculation that it was originally shown to the wrong audience. Many shows would follow its “channel-surf” style and find success on Cable stations like Comedy Central and HBO. But The Dana Carvey Show was not the type of show that benefitted from following the family friendly Home Improvement. This show would probably have survived a more fruitful life on different network with a later time slot. It was a very funny program and I’m glad to finally have it in my DVD collection. This show not only provided some very funny sketch comedy, but also really played with the format and had a number of hidden jokes and commentary about television and advertising. It’s not the greatest sketch comedy show ever, but it is one that shouldn’t be forgotten.
The 2 disc set is available on DVD from Shout Factory and includes the un-aired 8th episode as well as a series of unused sketches and a sit-down interview with both Robert Smigel and Dana Carvey. If you like sketch comedy and are a fan of Carvey, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, or Robert Smigel, you need to add this to your collection today.
And if you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!