The people who went on to star in Reno 911, Stella and Wet Hot American Summer started here, in the show that trumped them all.
Without The State, there wouldn’t have been a Reno 911. Without The State, there wouldn’t have been a Wet Hot American Summer. Without The State, there wouldn’t have been The Whitest Kids U Know. The comedy sketch series, which debuted in 1993 on MTV, kick started the careers of a large number of cutting edge comedians, gave us one of the most underrated comedies of the last twenty years and paved the road for irreverent, sketch humor, all owing a debt of gratitude to characters like Doug, Louie, LaVon and Barry.
I watched The State when it originally aired back in the mid-nineties and it became a staple in my group of friends, all quoting it endlessly. I still find myself today saying “I’m Doug and I’m out of here!” Yeah, I am about to turn forty and I still quote a dumb sketch from fifteen years ago in front of people who have no clue what I am talking about. Sue me. At least I was wearing my pants.
After years of rumors, The State was finally released on DVD with every season included. There are some hiccups in the transfer, though. The series took so long to get released for home media because they had to jump a number of hurdles and clear rights to so many things. When it originally aired, MTV had the rights to the music but the home distribution of the DVD did not include those. As a result, a number of the songs originally used in the series have been replaced with other tracks. The good news is, the creators of The State chose the replacement tracks, keeping the spirit of their original choices. Honestly, if the cast did not point these changes out in the commentary tracks, I never would have guessed (or remembered) they had been changed.
It has been many years since I watched the show, so I was prepared to be disappointed in areas because memory of is usually kinder than the actual facts when you revisit something. The State has aged gracefully over the years. What was funny then remains funny now, explaining why these comedians remained relevant in future projects. There are some sketches that kids today won’t get, like the parodies of MTV’s programming from the nineties. But the humor that hits is the comedy that doesn’t rely on pop culture references to be funny, instead allowing the cast do their thing.
The cast is a who’s-who of faces kids today will recognize. Michael Ian Black is a smart comedian who spends most his time lately sending one-line jokes through Twitter. He also recently starred alongside fellow State alum Michael Showalter in the Comedy Central show Michael and Michael Have Issues, which aired in 2009. A number of the cast became best known for the successful Comedy Central show Reno 911. Robert Ben Garant, Kerry Kenney, Joe Lo Ltuglio and Thomas Lennon all starred in that show and I wonder how much success The State could have had if Comedy Central had existed when it was released instead of relying on MTV.
But what made The State so funny? It is humor that doesn’t come off as well in words as when you actually see it. Just telling someone that LaVon and Barry are two swinging bachelors who dance in front of a giant pile of pudding will get nothing more than a raised eyebrow before that person slips away to find another friend. But to see this sketch proves the brilliance these people have in making something so ridiculous, so amazingly funny. The show parodied Saturday Night Live’s “Deep Thoughts” with a sketch called “Old Fashioned Guy” and I find these small bits to be very funny as well. Other highlights include Doug always trying to be a rebel to the point where the adults end up cooler than he is, Louie and his famous catchphrase (“I wanna dip my balls in it!”) and the guy who discovers pants for the first time. I also found a number of things that other shows lifted from in recent years. The Whitest Kids U Know sketch about shooting the President was used in The State a good decade before.
The box set also includes the final season where The State tried to move to network TV with disastrous consequences. The show was still funny but they couldn’t go as far as normal on regular television. It is not a surprise they died quickly after the move. After over fifteen years, it is nice to be able to watch this show again. It has aged better than most sketch comedy and is just as funny today as it was when it first aired. It also makes my wife want to kill me when I keep telling her “I wanna dip my balls in it!”
Each disc includes interviews with the show’s creators. The interviews are all from when the show was still airing and includes some great comments like Michael Ian Black saying all they wanted to do was The State and none of them wanted to branch off and split apart to do solo projects. They also talked about the origins of the show, the feedback from the network and how the original critical reviews were “hateful.”
There are also commentary tracks recently recorded with the cast members including Kevin Allison, Michael Ian Black, Robert Ben Garant, Todd Holoubek, Michael Patrick Jann, Kerri Kenney-Silver, Thomas Lennon, Joe Lo Truglio, Ken Marino, Michel Showalter ad David Wain. Most of the commentary give a little bit of information about the sketch and then morphs into the commenters cracking jokes. They are all great and add a lot of comedy to the set.
There are also a number of outtakes, which are never very funny, unaired sketches, which are hit-and-miss and the unaired pilot.