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Reviewed by Will Harris
here are some sketch comedy ensembles where, no matter how many years have passed since their disintegration, you still know all of their names and keep an eye out for any TV series or movies to which they’ve been attached. The cast of “The State” is not one of those. Granted, they probably would be if there weren’t eleven of them but, criminey, the average person can’t even name all seven dwarves in “Snow White.” How can they be expected to reel off the name of every freaking member of “The State”?
Over the course of its four seasons on MTV, “The State” made its bid to be remembered as the ‘90s equivalent of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” even though the network they called home probably would’ve been happier if they’d played it a little bit closer to “Saturday Night Live.” Founded by Todd Holoubek at NYU, where all of the members were students, The State first found a television foothold by backing up Jon Stewart on a short-lived MTV series called “You Wrote It, You Watch It.” It didn’t last very long, but it nonetheless earned the group a shot at their own show on the network, which premiered in late 1993. You can tell how much the troupe was under mandate in its early days to keep its sensibilities as close to MTV’s established demographic as possible, offering forced parodies of “MTV Sports” and “House of Style” while acting pissy at the mere suggestion that they should offer recurring characters (which comes shining through in the first Louie sketch, with his ridiculous catchphrase, “I wanna dip my balls in it!”), but as the seasons went on, the group’s own madness began to take center stage.
When it comes to watching “The State: The Complete Series,” the odds are that you’re either going to be reciting your favorite lines along with the cast because you’re such a diehard fan or that you’re exploring it because you’ve heard so much about it over the years but never actually seen it. It’s a series that has almost no casual fans, which stands to reason, given that the same can be said for some of the subsequent series (“Stella,” “Viva Variety,” “Reno 911!”) and films (“Wet Hot American Summer,” “The Ten,” “The Baxter”) that have emerged from the “State” camp over the years. As a result, your mileage with the show will no doubt vary wildly.
This, of course, begs the question, “Where do you even start when selecting highlights from ‘The State’?” It’s such a matter-of-personal-opinion thing that I can only throw out random moments that have made me laugh over the years. Despite their initial reluctance to offer recurring characters, the group did eventually succumb, but since none of them were overused to the point of annoyance (ahem, “Saturday Night Live”), every single Louie, Doug (“I’m outta heeeeeere”), and Barry & Levon (“Awwwwwww, yeah…”) remains a classic. Bizarre concepts like “Mime Crash” and “Taco Man” are funny for no reason that can be adequately explained without one actually watching them, and even though you know you shouldn’t laugh at a law firm named Booger, Booger & Fartybutt, you won’t be able to help yourself. Personally, though, my favorite sketch is probably “Porcupine Racetrack.” I can’t quantify a reason; I can only tell you that, short of the jingle for “Lil’ Brown Dog Food,” no music from “The State” has stuck with me longer.
There are few aficionados of sketch comedy who will deny the greatness of “The State.” It stands alongside “Mr. Show” as one of the best series of its ilk to emerge during the 1990s, and to finally have it available to view in pristine form in the comfort of our own homes is one of the greatest gifts comedy fans have gotten in quite some time.
Special Features: Perhaps in an attempt to make up for the lengthy delay in bringing the series to DVD, every single member of the group has contributed to audio commentaries amongst bonus material of “The State: The Complete Series” in some capacity or other. Each season of the series gets its own disc, and each of those discs are filled with audio commentaries (there’s one on every single episode), interviews, and outtakes; additionally, there’s a fifth disc which is filled with promos, special appearances by the group on various other MTV shows, more outtakes, the original pilot episode for the series, and unaired sketches from the pilot and the first three seasons of the show. (It’s not explained, but one presumes that the group’s decision to pursue a new deal elsewhere after Season Three resulted in less excess material during Season Four.)
If there’s a disappointment, it’s that there aren’t actually any new interviews with the cast members, with everything that’s included having been culled from archival footage. Still, it’s an incentive to check out the aforementioned commentaries, which are unfailingly hilarious. Be sure to check out their comments about the unaired sketches, which are arguably the funniest on the set; they either explain exactly why the sketches never made it to air or, in some cases, admit that they don’t have any idea why they were supposed to have been funny in the first place.