Dana Carvey, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Robert Smigel, Bill Chott, Heather Morgan, Peggy Shay, Elon Gold, Chris McKinney, James Stephens III, Colleen Dunn, Robert J. Locke
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Reviewed by Will Harris
f you’ve never seen “The Dana Carvey Show,” then it’s reasonable for you to wonder why a sketch comedy series starring one of the more popular graduates from the cast of “Saturday Night Live” only aired for seven episodes before being canceled.
Between his various “SNL” characters (most notably the Church Lady) and the two “Wayne’s World” films, Carvey was a known commodity, and since leaving the show, he’d done relatively well with his first headlining film (“Clean Slate”) and as the brother of Nicolas Cage and Jon Lovitz in “Trapped in Paradise,” even proving himself a capable stand-up with his HBO special, “Critic’s Choice.” He was even being courted to replace a certain gap-toothed talk show host when the gentleman in question was defecting from NBC over to CBS. In other words, you’d think Carvey would’ve been a sure bet to score a success with his own show, particularly given that the cast of players included both Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert. So why did it fail?
The answer to that question can be summed up in four words: Bill Clinton’s prosthetic nipples.
Carvey’s goal with his series had ostensibly been to provide comedy for the baby boomers who couldn’t as easily stay awake for “Saturday Night Live,” and as executive producer Robert Smigel admits in the looking-back featurette on the DVD set, they’d been promised the same approximate standards granted to “SNL” for their material. The decision was made to have the first sketch of the first episode focus on President Clinton attempting to show his level of compassion by having prosthetic nipples attached to his person and letting babies and animals suckle at his teats. While it certainly showed that the comedy on the series wasn’t going to be family-friendly by any stretch of the imagination, a seemingly clueless ABC had nonetheless decided to pair Carvey’s show with “Home Improvement.” You can only imagine the horrified viewers who stuck around to check out this new series, only to see such a surreal and disturbing sight. To Carvey’s credit, he fully acknowledged the reaction of Middle America in the opening remarks of the second episode, but the damage had already been done.
Given the heights that Colbert and Carell have since gone on to reach, it’s hard to say that it’s a bad thing that “The Dana Carvey Show” was so short-lived, but as you explore the eight episodes on this set – one of which, as you may have deduced, was never aired – you’ll still feel some pangs of regret for what might’ve been. The political material, focusing almost exclusively on the 1996 Presidential primaries, is pretty hit or miss (though “Bob Dole Undercover” is pretty hilarious), but many of the other sketches are damned funny – not that you’d expect any less from a writing staff that included Smigel, Louis C.K., Charlie Kaufmann, and Spike Ferensten.
There are two great recurring sketches with Carvey and Carell, one where they’re the stupidest pranksters imaginable (an example: driving up to a drive-thru window, paying for their order, and driving off before they’re given their food), the other called “Germans Who Say Nice Things,” which is only funny because of the Fuhrer-esque delivery they give to lines like, “’Mr. Holland’s Opus’ is the feel-good movie of the year!” After Nipple-gate, the show managed to figure out ways to be more subtly disconcerting with their material, such as “Grandma the Clown,” which is simply an old woman in clown make-up, doing clown-like things at quarter speed while saying things like, “Oh, the days are rushing by, children, it’ll be over before you know it,” and asking the kids to scratch her ankle. There are also some great pop culture parodies, like placing the Unabomber on MTV’s “Singled Out,” showing cutting room floor footage from “The Wizard of Oz,” or advertising “The All-Rich Little Rich Little's One Man Easter.”
There aren’t many guest stars on the show, but Phil Hartman does offer a great Larry King impression as he interviews Carvey’s Ross Perot, who refuses to acknowledge that he’s running for President. If you’re looking for Church Lady sketches, however, you’ll only find one: it’s done in the first episode, and it’s clear that it’s being offered mostly to say, “Okay, we did it, it’s done, and now we’re never going to do it again.” He does, however, trot out many of his familiar impressions, including Paul McCartney and Regis Philbin, and introduces a few more, most notably Charles Grodin. Other cast members break out their best mimicry as well, with Colbert doing Geraldo Rivera and Elon Gold offering up excellent takes on Howard Stern, David Schwimmer and Jeff Goldblum. As for Heather Morgan, her tour de force comes with an odd but compelling sketch entitled “First Ladies as Dogs,” which must be seen to be fully appreciated.
No, it’s not really a surprise that “The Dana Carvey Show” had such a short run, but thanks to Shout Factory listening to the diehard fans that kept begging and pleading for a DVD release, at least we can continue to enjoy “Skinheads from Maine” and Tom Brokaw announcing Gerald Ford’s death without watching the crappy taped-from-VHS versions that’ve been circulating on YouTube for so many years.
Special Features: In addition to the aforementioned unaired episode, there are also some deleted scenes, but the best bonus is unquestionably the new interview with Carvey and Smigel about the origins of the show, its brief lifespan, and the controversy it attracted in that short amount of time.