The Complete Second Season
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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
t’s not the only way to pitch “Upright Citizens Brigade” to the uninitiated, but it could be the most truthful: this is a show for smart people who like to get high and laugh their asses off. The UCB seem to know this, too, and various aspects of drug culture find their way into the show’s second season, with an ongoing gag centered around the fictitious drug Supercool (which looks suspiciously like Pixie Stix) culminating in the final episode on this set. Of course, obtaining too much of a buzz could also result in getting a little lost along the way. Sketch comedy is rarely this meticulously plotted or strung together, and this material becomes funnier on repeated viewings, hence it is ideal for the DVD format.
The first season of the series hit DVD way back in 2003, and, no doubt, loyal fans have waited impatiently for the second batch of inspired madness. Written by Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, Matt Walsh and SNL’s Amy Poehler (who all recently came back together for the feature film “Wild Girls Gone”), the four star both as the members of the titular organization as well as an endless array of characters that pepper the episodes. Good comedy is difficult enough to dissect, however, making an analysis of “Upright Citizens Brigade” nearly impossible. How can it be explained that a man willing to sacrifice his entire monetary worth over a sushi obsession is a hilarious scream? Or that a home infested by Friars might leave the viewer in stitches? Or that seeing Jesus in a plate of spaghetti is prime material for religious parody? Okay, maybe that last one at least sounds funny, but if you were then told that an ongoing gag for the season involves Chinese throwing stars, we might be back to square one.
The UCB is an underground (literally) anarchic organization comprised of Antoine (Roberts), Colby (Poehler), Trotter (Walsh) and Adair (Besser). They’ve got a lot of scientific equipment and might even be geniuses, but since this is sketch comedy, it probably doesn’t matter. They spy goings-on around the world and affect chaotic change as they see fit. Part of what they do involves bringing together various elements of society that otherwise would never meet, but the UCB itself is less important to the show than those they spy on. A typical half hour episode (if there is such a thing as typical in this series) involves several plots/scenarios weaving in and out of each other that eventually collide in the final minutes. For instance, in one episode, a bomb squad ends up outside a pot dealer’s house and finds itself trying to diffuse a bong made from a dildo. Never mind that bongs don’t explode, but bombs do, and there was a miscommunication, presumably engineered by the UCB. (The pot dealer cannot get enough of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” by the way.) One episode features a parody of “Searching of Bobby Fischer,” although instead of chess, the mastery of dialects is the central sport; another skillfully pokes fun at “Midnight Cowboy” and Oliver Twist simultaneously.
I saw some of “Upright Citizens Brigade” in its first season back in ’98 when it first appeared on Comedy Central, but I somehow got away from the show. The jokes from that first episode in Season One never left my head, however, and when The Bucket of Truth made a cameo in Season Two, it was a most bizarre flashback to an earlier time. As soon as I was done watching this set, I went and tracked down Season One and was again amazed by this troupe’s ability to keep a joke going without repetition. It’s not the same as, say, the Church Lady or other ongoing gags from similar series, but, then, trying to make comparisons is doing “Upright Citizens Brigade” a disservice. There’s nothing else quite like it, except maybe “Strangers with Candy,” and even that’s only comparable in tone. (The shows do, however, share an executive producer, Kent Alterman, who’ll be making his feature film directorial debut with the upcoming Will Ferrell vehicle, “Semi-Pro.”)
If you really want to shake people up, the UCB will also teach you that there’s no better opening line to pull on a total stranger than to casually say, “Hey…didn’t I once sell you some crack cocaine?”
Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another four years for Season Three on DVD.
Special Features: There’s plenty here for the “Upright” fanatic, but not as much for the casual fan, though, of course, even the casual fan will spend plenty of time giving the episodes themselves numerous spins. Every episode features a commentary track from all four Citizens and two of ‘em (“Spaghetti Jesus” and “Supercool”) are even recorded in front of an audience at the UCB Theater. Included on Disc One are two live/stand-up performances by the UCB from the shows “Comic Cabana” and MTV’s “Apt. 2F,” a “homemade intro” which looks to be something the UCB put together themselves (presumably predating the Comedy Central gig), and a videotaped alternate version of the “Hyperminimalism” sketch from Season One (which features an office operating normally within a forest). Disc Two unveils a riotous audience Q & A session after the screenings of the two live commentaries listed above. This one’s worth watching just to see Matt Besser get progressively intoxicated on the wine he’s sipping. Lastly there are nine deleted scenes – presented in some pretty dodgy video quality – that total about seven or eight minutes.