October 18, 2006

DVD Review: Stella - Season One

Recently released was the first and only season ever produced of Stella for Comedy Central. A show that was marketed as "Dumb comedy dressed in a suit" struggled to find an audience and disappeared after only ten episodes. I always wondered what happened to it after the first season ended last summer. It was a show that I tried to catch every week. There was something about it that just drew me in.

How do you describe a show like Stella? It stars three longtime friends Michael Showalter, Michael Ian Black, and David Wain playing characters with the imaginative names of Michael Showalter, Michael Ian Black, and David Wain. Their characters are friends and roommates who do everything together. Each week we were brought into their world where they would go on a series of adventures. They go to a company picnic for a company that they do not work, taking a job as paper boys to face off with a 10 year old bully, and even start a garden in their apartment to resolve their debt. They are always dressed in suits and have a childlike innocence about their actions.

Stella is a bizarre conglomeration of sitcom and sketch comedy that never does things the easy way. It is a show that left me scratching my head the first time I saw it. The setups are bizarre, nonsensical and very funny. It is a series that demands that you invest yourself in their adventures. Never ones to settle for the easy or obvious jokes, Michael, Michael, and David play off of each other and create something truly unique.

It is rare to come across a show that is so unique and quirky as this, and I can completely understand why there are only ten episodes. This style of comedy is not for everyone, actually, it is probably for a very small portion of the public. This is not mainstream, has no mainstream tendencies, and in no way, shape or form would ever be seen on network television.

Stella is one of the more fringe shows you are likely to see. Despite my thoughts of its narrow range of appeal, I urge all of you to sample to zaniness that is on these disks. Something that is very refreshing about it is how innocent it is. The show never goes for vulgarity, or sexual innuendo, rather they all exhibit a sense of wonder. Children in suits, playing adults and not really sure how they are supposed to act.

The trio of stars have really created something special here. I only wish that it found an audience so that we could have gotten further adventures. Watching them go through their absurdist motions may not elicit belly laughs, it may not provide the over the top edge of South Park, and it may not fall within the confines of the traditional sitcom or sketch comedy show, and therein lies its brilliance. The guys of Stella bring an innocent, if bizarre, vision to the screen, and it is a breath of fresh air.

Audio/Video. Neither one is perfect, but both accurately portray the original broadcasts which were hampered by having a low budget more than by any transfer issues. The image is 1.33:1 and is generally clean and free of artifacts. The audio is stereo and has some odd quirks, like the voices sometimes sounding like the mike was too far away, all issues that existed in the original recording.

Extras. There is a nice selection of extras to compliment the ten episodes.
  • Deleted Scenes. A selection of funny scenes and lengthened takes.
  • Blooper Reel. Flubbed lines among the usual assortment of gags.
  • Comedy Central Quickies. A couple of short scenes from South Park and Reno 911.
  • Featurette: "The History of Stella." This is a very good addition, it runs about 45 minutes and features a lengthy interview with the trio which includes a ton of old footage of them from their college days to their time with The State to the original Stella stage show and video taped sketches.
  • Featurette: "Comedy Central Presents: Stella." This was a half hour live show that aired on the channel.
  • Commentaries. Their are commentaries on all ten episodes by the troupe. They are very good listens, as they blend anecdotes on the making of the episode with them goofing around. Lots of fun and worth a listen.
  • Easter Eggs. Supposedly there is at least one egg on the set, I have not yet found it.

Bottomline. This was a funny series that I wish there was more of. If you like non-traditional comedy, give this a try. Michael, Michael, and David are a funny trio.

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