« June 2009 | Main | August 2009 »

July 2009

July 14, 2009

Time Magazine - WHAT?

Comedian Michael Ian Black

Michael ian black comedian actor
Michael Ian Black
Rebecca Sapp / WireImage / Getty

Michael Ian Black's cynical, self-effacing performances generated a cult following in his sketch-comedy show The State and the subsequent college dormitory hit Wet Hot American Summer. But the comedian is probably most recognizable as a snarky commentator on VH1's I Love the '80s nostalgia series. His latest endeavor is the Comedy Central show Michael and Michael Have Issues, which debuts July 15 and co-stars fellow State alum Michael Showalter. TIME talked to Black about his career, tacos and whether or not he really loves the '80s. (See a history of stand-up comedy in pictures.)

Tell me about your new show, Michael and Michael Have Issues.
It's about the lives of sketch-comedy writers, but I'd say it's more specific than that. It's really sort of about the relationship between my partner Michael Showalter and me, rather than the fact that we make sketch comedy.

Which Michael has more issues?

He does.

What's wrong with him?
Paranoia. Hypochondria. Body dismorphia. Egomania. He's anorexic. Also a terrible overeater. He's a recovering alcoholic and an insomniac, but he made up for that by becoming a very serious drug addict. He's agoraphobic and argyle-phobic, which means he's afraid of argyle socks.

That's an incredibly specific fear.
I know. It's terrible. It's very debilitating for him.

So basically, this show is going to be about his neuroses and your attempts to calm him down.
Well, not really. As a result of his neuroses, I'm incredibly neurotic.

You've referred to yourself before as being associated "almost exclusively with failed projects" over the course of your career. Do you really feel that way?
Well, you know there's that expression about people sleeping their way to the top? I've been failing myself laterally for about 15 years now. My career is going in an almost perfectly sideways direction. Flying under the radar gives you a little more freedom. But at the same time, fame and popularity allow you to do what you want to do. It's a little bit paradoxical. I actually don't know anyone who wants to be famous for fame's sake, at least not anyone I respect. But you need to have a certain amount of power in order to be able to do what you want.

Do you have that power?
Oh no. Not yet, and not for the foreseeable future.

You're on TV and in movies though, so you probably get recognized a lot.
People recognize me but they don't know where from. Today I was in the elevator and somebody asked me if I worked for his company.

Are you ever tempted to say "Yes, I do work with you?"
No, but I do lie about some things. Whenever anyone asks me if I'm from a TV show, I say yes — no matter whether I've ever been on it. It just makes the conversation that much easier.

You started something on Twitter called the "F — It List," a series of things you don't want to do before you die. What's on it?
Well, I almost broke one of them, which was, "See the reunited Phish." I went to Bonaroo and they were performing, but I was fortunate not to have to see them play.

Why do they book comedy acts at music festivals?
There's this misconception that comedy and music go together. They don't. Comedians can't compete with rock stars; they're just not on the same level. Rock stars will always be cooler. They will always get more girls. We'll always be the ugly stepchildren in the entertainment industry. And that's probably as it should be. If comedians were ever supersuccessful or cool, it would sort of destroy our credibility. Our job is to speak for the losers of the world.

I read your essay "Taco Party" in your book, My Custom Van and 50 Other Mind-Blowing Essays. When I went back to try to find it I instead discovered an entire rant you'd written about taco-flavored Doritos. Apparently you really love tacos and write about them a lot.

 Tacos run through my work. Tacos are essential to my oeuvre. A taco done right has pretty much your recommended daily allowance of everything. It's God's perfect creation.

Do you really love the '80s, or is it all just a sham?
I'm rather indifferent to any 10-year period as an arbitrary measure of my own happiness. There were certainly some good moments in the '80s, like when Michael Jackson moonwalked. There were also some not-so-good moments, like when the space shuttle exploded. Coincidentally, they both involved space.

There's a series called I Love the New Millennium but the decade isn't over yet. Do we really need a TV show that helps us remember 2005?
You're living in a bizarro universe where time folds back on itself and nostalgia is something you reminisce about before it even happens. In fact, we're shooting I Love the 2020s right now.

What happens in the 2020s?
I can't tell you about it because it would change the course of history. Then we'd have to reshoot the entire episode.

July 13, 2009

More or Less Freaking Out

As I’m sure you all expect, my thoughts these days are mostly on the premiere of our new show, “Michael & Michael Have Issues.” The show starts in two days, and I’m going a little bi-polar over the whole thing. One minute I’m calm and collected, the next I’m writing morbid poetry and cutting myself. Maybe it’s an obvious thing to say, but any creative endeavor is a very frightening proposition. You work your ass off on something, give it everything you have, then put it out there, and, inevitably, wait for other people to tell you how much it sucks. That’s a hard thing to go through, and even though I’ve been doing it for a long time now, it never gets easier.

I remember the first day the State aired on MTV. We all gathered in our offices together and read the reviews as they came in. Back then, of course, you couldn’t read things on the internet unless you were in the Defense Department (which I was, but my security clearance was suspended because of an incident involving a “gag nuke launch.”). So we read the New York papers, one at a time, and each one hated the show worse than the other. I don’t know if the State received a single good review. It was a terrible day, and it was so devastating because we were all proud of the work and couldn’t understand why people were hitting us so hard. When a review begins with the sentence “Whatever executive at MTV approved this show ought to be given a drug test,” you know the rest of the review is not going to be kind.

Back then, we were able to kind of laugh it all off but it stung. (And by stung, I mean it reactivated my bulimia – this was before I learned how to cut myself.)

With this new show, the reviews to this point have been positive pretty much across the board, which feels good, but I believe if you laugh off the bad ones you have to laugh off the good ones, too. While it’s nice to read fine things about yourself in various publications, I can’t take it too seriously. “Stella” got a lot of good reviews too, but viewers told us otherwise.

Also I’m a little concerned that if the critics all like what you’re doing, it’s entirely possible you’re doing something wrong. That’s because I find that critics tend to be about two steps behind the general population when it comes to comedy; the fact that they hated The State so much made me feel like we were onto something new, something that they hated because they didn’t understand it. Then when the audience found the show and supported it so strongly, it verified that belief. I mean, if In Touch Magazine (4 out of 5 stars in their recent issue) likes what you’re doing, what does that say about what you’re doing?

I don’t have huge hopes for the show in terms of viewership. This is not false modesty. Nothing I have ever done has been especially successful in a commercial sense, and I’d be amazed if this show were any different. Besides, we can’t control what people think. All I can control is the work, and I feel like we’ve done a good job. If several million people happen to agree, that would be rad. (Yes I said “rad” in a desperate attempt to appeal to the youth. God, I hate myself.)

A Little Ice Cream Fun Plus Kissing

Who Would You Kiss For a Klondike Bar? - The best bloopers are here

From Today's USA Today Weekend Blog or Something

July 13, 2009

Michael Ian Black explores his 'Issues'

Shot_4_014_PRESS_7 It’s a very good week for fans of The State, the ’90s sketch show on MTV. Not only is the full series (finally!) being released on DVD Tuesday but two Statesmen, Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter, are debuting their new show, Michael and Michael Have Issues, on Comedy Central Wednesday at 10:30 p.m. ET (check out a preview below). Black and Showalter play contentious hosts of a fictional sketch show; viewers will see some sketches as well as behind-the-scenes story lines. The comedy is fueled by that tension, which frequently ends up in punches being thrown. Our copy chief (and major State fan) Jill Golden watched the first two episodes and talked with Black this morning about the new show, his issues and his plan to reinvigorate the auto industry. Click read more for the full interview.

Photos courtesy of Comedy Central

Michael & Michael Have IssuesPremieres Wed, July 15, 10:30pm / 9:30c
Preview - Greg the Intern
Joke of the DayStand-Up ComedyFree Online Games

Your new show is a show-within-a-show. It’s a similar format to The Michael Showalter Showalter. What’s so appealing about that format?
It allows us to play ourselves, which is fun and doesn’t require any great acting skills. It also allows us to do sketches, which are also fun and don’t require great acting skills.

It seems like Comedy Central is giving you a fair amount of freedom. Have they rejected anything yet?
Oh yeah, absolutely. What’s good about our relationship with them is that they trust us and like what we do and give us a little bit more rope than a big network might. We might choose to use that rope to hang ourselves, but hopefully not.

Would you say your comedy has matured since your MTV days?
No, I definitely would not say my comedy has matured. Nor would I say it has evolved. But hopefully the craft has gotten better. Meaning my sensibility is the same, but hopefully the execution of it is improving.

You and Michael have a hate-hate relationship. Do you have any good anger-management exercises?
The way I deal with any anger is to internalize it as much as possible. My understanding is that’s what doctors recommend you do. When your heart explodes when you’re 45, you don’t feel a thing. It just goes off like an M-80, and you’re done.

Do you enjoy picking fights and engaging in fisticuffs?
[Laughs.] Uh, no. Fisticuffs are something that I do not enjoy, have never enjoyed and will never enjoy.

MIB_Showalter_Issues_Sign_FL043 But there’s a fair amount in the show.
Yes, but you’ll notice that, in the first episode in particular, we engage in fisticuffs in which we never actually touch each other.

I loved that part!
It speaks volumes about who we are. [Laughs.]

So there’s a lot of bravado and none of the bruises.
There’s a lot of bark and very little bite. We are toothless.

Did you exclude your Stella co-star, David Wain, this time because your issues with him are insurmountable?
That’s exactly right. My personal issues with David extend beyond even being able to sit in a room with him.

You like starting feuds. Have you picked a new feud victim?
I think this show is my latest and greatest feud. Who better to pick a feud with than one of your best friends?

And we can all watch it — and see you win every week.
[Laughs.] Not even close! Most episodes we kinda come out even. Some episodes are little more open to interpretation as to who wins.

Conversely, do you have a bromance with anyone?
[Long pause] No. I mean, Paul Rudd, because everybody has a bromance with him. I just enjoy his characters from movies so much that I feel like we have a relationship.

Your Twitter feed is very funny. You have about 810,000 more followers than Showalter does. Any big plans for when you hit the 1,000,000 mark?
I’m gonna send a present to each one of my followers — a Mazda Miata in their choice of colors.

That’s very Oprah of you.
Except I don’t think she ever gave away a million cars. I’m gonna jump-start the entire auto industry.

That’s a good idea.
And really, really generous of me.

But that’s Mazda. What about the American car industry?
[Sighs.] I probably should send out a million American cars. All right, I do that.

Which American car is comparable to the Miata?
What do they make? Do American companies still make cars?

They might have two or three models left.
I’ll take one of those and send out a million.

Have you considered challenging somebody to a race to 1 million followers?
No, but I probably should challenge Showalter, because I know I’ll win.

Others in the 800,000 range include Joel McHale, People Magazine, Levar Burton, Jessica Simpson and Weird Al.
They’ll all beat me.

So you would only take the sure bet.
Showalter? That’s a race I’ll win. LeVar Burton, I’m not gonna beat. I’ve tried before. It didn’t happen.

What are your short-term and long-term hopes for Michael and Michael Have Issues?
Short-term is to finish. We’re done filming, but we’re not done in post-production. My long-term goal is to get picked up for a second season

July 10, 2009

Me On Ferguson Last Night

July 09, 2009

Wow. This Review Almost Made Me Cry.

From DVD Talk:

The State: The Complete Series
Paramount // Unrated // July 14, 2009
List Price: $79.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted July 8, 2009 | E-mail the Author | Start a Discussion
Buy from Amazon.com
DVD Talk Collector Series
E - M A I L
this review to a friend
Printer Friendly
In 10 Words or Less
Probably the best thing MTV's ever aired

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Sketch comedy, The State
Likes: MTV in the early '90s
Dislikes: Music replacement
Hates: MTV now

The Show
While MTV occasionally offers up something worth watching, seemingly by accident, there was a time when they were on a hardcore winning streak, and that was the mid '90s, when the channel rolled the dice and managed to craft a truly unique and entertaining line-up with original series like Unplugged, The Maxx and, of course, The State. Handing the keys of a nationwide sketch comedy show to a gaggle of kids just out of college, whose biggest accomplishment to that point was working on the much-forgotten, yet prescient crowdsourcing series You Wrote It, You Watch It, was an actual programming risk, unlike airing yet another Laguna Hills series.

That risk paid off though, at least for those who watched it, as The State delivered three or so seasons of sketch genius that deserved a place alongside the true legends of the genre, mostly because they were from a new generation of comedy troupes who learned from the pioneers, but wanted to blaze their own trail, a group that included The Kids in the Hall and the Upright Citizens Brigade. Taking influences from Monty Python and adding a healthy helping of pop-culture flavor, The State bent the expectations for sketch comedy and yet managed to practice the art to near perfection, until an ill-advised move away from the comfort of MTV to the more corporate, less-nurturing CBS ended their show.

From the moment the unusual theme song kicks in, with it's rough, loud "Boys and girls...action! Action!", you know this show is something different. Utilizing links to move from sketch to sketch, filming with a mix of multiple camera and single camera shoots and mixing longer sketches with quick bits, the show built a legitimate sense of momentum that helped the group's absurd sensibility create a show where anything truly could happen. In a single episode you could have a slapstick-style food fight, a commercial parody, a kabuki scene, talking, vengeful seamonkeys and the story of a relationship with a toothbrush. There's no such thing as the prototypical The State sketch, with only the recurring character sketches bearing any resemblance to each other (and even those are parodies of recurring characters.)

All the credit obviously goes to the troupe, who wrote and performed everything, and the talent they brought to the show is obvious in the success so many of them have had in the years since the show left the air. Considering how organic the group's origins are, with them being college pals and improv group colleagues before getting the show, the variety of styles they bring to the table is surprising, with a bit of everything amongst the 10 guys, including the overwhelmingly funny Michael Ian Black, Thomas Lennon and Ken Marino, and an unbelievably versatile and hilarious lady in Kerri Kenney-Silver. Of course, with just one female member, drag is also a big part of their arsenal, with their technique coming in somewhere between Monty Python and the Kids in the Hall, as there's not a lot of an attempt to be feminine, but the women don't tend to be as grotesque as some of the females portrayed on the Flying Circus. Truthfully, unlike SNL or many other sketch shows, there's not a weak link in the bunch, with even the lesser-known stars, like Todd Holoubek and Kevin Allison, having their moments of brilliance and overall solid performances.

With hundreds of sketches included, it's hard to pick out a handful to highlight, without leaving out a ton of great ones, so instead focusing on the genres makes sense. The recurring characters, which were mostly foisted upon the group by MTV, looking to build popular bits, actually ended up becoming popular, despite making fun of the idea of a sketch built around a catchphrase. Thus we get several segments with Louie (Marino), a guy whose sole attribute is a desire to dip his (golf) balls in various items, and announcing that desire, along with teen rebel Doug (Michael Showalter), who is unable to cope with understanding authority figures, and busts out his own exit catchphrase (which itself is parodied in a sketch.) It's amazing how many times it feels like they are trying to not make a legitimate sketch, only to create a memorable one, like "The Animal Song," a bizarre musical scene, or the Barry and Levon bits, which center around $240 worth of pudding.

The show has aged surprisingly well, with bits that aren't hugely timely, though most of the MTV-focused segments, including an MTV Sports parody and several "Free Your Mind" commercials, may fall on the deaf ears and blind eyes of younger viewers. Making fun of talk shows, kids getting in trouble and sneakers that make piggy sounds when you step down on the heel are simply universal concepts, as is the extreme absurdism the show trades in. A commercial for cereal where everyone is at least mildly mentally retarded is an example of where this show is coming from, and that's just the first episode, as it just gets weirder from there, touching on monkey torture, dinnertime prayers for fratricide and Eastern European variety shows (the origin of the later Viva Variety series.) Having a line that's hard to cross, or no line at all, will go a long way toward helping you enjoy this series.

The DVDs
Just to start, according to The State's site, there were only three seasons on MTV, with the third being aired in two parts, but this set is broken up into four seasons. Considering the group was heavily involved with the discs, there's no reason to doubt this organization, but it is a bit weird. On the other hand, it made it easy to split the four seasons over four discs, with a fifth for more bonus material. The discs are held in a trio of black ThinPak cases, which are inside a loose-fitting slipcase that also holds a note from The State (explaining the music replacement (see The Quality for details,) and some promo inserts. The DVDs feature animated full-frame menus with options to play all the episodes, select shows, check out the bonus material and activate audio commentaries. There are no subtitles and no audio options, but closed captioning is available.

The Quality
The episodes were remastered for re-release (on iTunes first and then on DVD) and the results are clear on these full-frame transfers, especially when you compare them to other shows from the early '90s. There's an odd inconsistency to the footage though, with some scenes looking like they were shot last week, with a clean image that sports bright, appropriate color and a good level of detail, while others look like home video I shot with my old Sears shoulder-mouth camcorder, with that distinct dull, soft look that only VHS does justice to. It's not even like you can compare in-studio to location shoots, as they vary in quality no matter where they were shot. No matter what you're looking at though, there's no obvious damage or compression artifacts, though there's a bit of blurring that's distracting, as copyrights are upheld on posters and such throughout the series.

The audio is presented in pretty standard Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks that do a fine job of recreating the early-'90s basic cable sound of the series, with clean dialogue and clear music, though there's nothing dynamic about the mix.

Now, about that music replacement... When the show aired, they were free to use a wide range of music due to deals MTV had with the major labels. So there were a lot of well-known music tracks throughout the series. Those deals didn't extend to video, so most of the music had to be replaced ("The Power" by Snap somehow slid through.) It's frequent, but, as the updates were done with the cooperation of the troupe, the creator of the rocking theme, Craig Wedren of Shudder to Think, was brought in to do fill-in tracks, and he's done an excellent job of recreating the feel of the original songs. The most memorable example of music in the series is probably the iconic use of The Breeders' "Cannonball" in the classic "Pants" sketch, but it's imitated with some heavy bass use to good effect. It's not ideal, but as noted in the packaging, the cost of the music would have prevented the DVDs from being released, and some rights were simply not available to them. The only real down note is the removal of a link sketch where the cast sang part of a Pearl Jam song, but only the most hardcore fans will miss it or notice its absence.

The Extras
The main extra here is a massive one, as there's an audio commentary on all 24 episodes, with various combinations of the 11 cast members participating together in the room (with some on the phone.) There are times where they find themselves just watching, but for the most part they provide a good deal of background info about the sketching, including plenty of location notes, while there's a lot of joking around amongst these old friends. It's a treat to be able to watch the shows along with the cast, especially since they point out the majority of the music replacements, keeping you in the loop on what's changed.

Each of the four season discs has a set of classic interviews from the days of the show (check out that MTV News mic flag and the young Staters!,) plus a set tour by Black, for a total of just over 26 minutes of footage. They talk about basic topics like how the group started, the characters they play and their catchphrases, and though the nostalgia is nice, perspective would have been better, though I guess the commentaries help cover that.

Also spread across the four discs are over 17 minutes of outtakes, which can be viewed individually or all together. There's some funny bits in this pile of goof-ups and extended scenes, but you'll be sitting through a lot of material that most would consider just OK. You'll find even more unseen footage on the fifth disc, which has a collection of 43 unaired sketches and another six minutes of outtakes. The unaired sketches, of which there are a whopping 91 minutes of, come from across the show's several seasons, and are available with optional commentary by Allison, Holoubek, Joe Lo Truglio, Michael Patrick Jann, Marino, Showalter and David Wain. Several of these bits were better off excised, and the commentators freely admit that, but then there are sketches like the bizarre "Drag Dad," "Porno Sex Lover" and "Tar Baby" which are simply too good to have been unseen so long.

For those interested in seeing how the show first looked, which isn't too far off from what made it to air, the pilot episode has been included, with optional commentary by the same crew from the unaired sketches. Some of these bits made it into the show, the classic "Hormones" sketch was reshot, and some just went away, making this a show most fans will want to look at. The same goes for some special appearances included on this disc, including an appearance on MTV's The Jon Stewart Show, a dirty little sketch from a 1996 Spring Break special, Shut Up & Laugh, Panama City (with bonus awkward hosting by Norm McDonald), an assortment of "Spring Break Safety Tips" and a poorly-produced '80s-style music video from an MTV Christmas Party. There's also over 12 minutes of promos for the series, which are a lot of fun, especially the first one, "Miserable Crap," which uses the show's bad early reviews, and a bunch of amusing "Next on The State" commercials, which work on numerous levels, as each cast member gets to do their bit, while the others goof around in the background.

If there's anything I simply love the fifth disc for, it's the redux of the theme song that plays on the main menu. It's "Boys and Girls," done by boys and girls. Brilliant.

The Bottom Line
Incredibly, The State remains truly hilarious, even with the dual demons of timeliness and music copyrights working against it, thanks to a fantastically funny gang of creators working with a relative level of freedom. After years of hoping by fans, a complete collection of episodes has finally arrived, and it looks and sounds very nice (despite many changed music cues), while packing some impressive extras to boot. Though the music and blurs are frustrating, I can't think of anything else I could ask for in this set, aside from the CBS special, which is likely a rights issue (though aren't they all Viacom now?) As such, I feel I have to give this the highest rating possible, if only for finally fulfilling the wishes of so many. It's a fantastic walk down memory lane for longtime fans, and a chance for a new generation of fans to dip their balls in The State.

July 08, 2009


Being sick is terrible. At the moment I am in Los Angeles, California where all things are terrible most of the time already. When you add illness on top of that, you have a whirling vortex of horribleness. My illness settled over me this morning like a thick, smelly dog. A thick, smelly dog that I don't know who wandered into my house from the woods covered in ticks, drooling, and possibly infected with rabies. At first I thought I was maybe dehydrated or just suffering from poker hangover, which is a made-up medical condition whose symptoms mostly just include guilt from spending seven hours sitting at a poker table with eight other degenerate gamblers. Around the time I told the cast of "Good Day LA" that I was masturbating during our interview, I started to realize that this slobbery dog was not going anywhere and that I might, in fact, be sick.

Illness for me is rare. I am almost never sick, which angers my wife to the point where she wishes terrible sickness upon me if only so I can be more sympathetic to her when she gets one of her forty-two annual colds. As it is, I basically tell her to buck up and shut up, which does not go over well when the person you say you love is suffering from a fever and has to watch two children while you go off to work playing make-believe.

On those occasions when I do fall under the weather, I am reluctant to tell her because I know it is a gleeful moment for her and I know that my job as a husband is to keep her from glee, lest she come to expect it all the time. But I did call because my desire to keep her gleeless was trumped by my desire for sympathy. You might think that she would be unwilling to give me sympathy because I am such a bastard to her when she is sick, but you would be wrong because by giving me the attention and sympathy I crave when I am the one who needs it, she is successfully one-upping me in our marriage's never-ending game of "I am a better person than you."

She told me I should stay in Los Angeles an extra day to rest if I am really sick, which is probably the most passive-aggressive thing she could have said. A better response would have been, "Get home so I can cuddle you and spoon you Campbell's chicken noodle soup." But no. She said she didn't want me getting other people on the plane sick. Fuck the other people on the plane. They're not the ones with a new show on Comedy Central. I am, and I need to get home!

These are my symptoms:

• Headache
• Chills
• Achiness
• Slight nausea
• Loss of appetite
• Lack of desire to appear on "Loveline" tonight with Dr. Drew.

The "Loveline" part is probably more a result of my illness than an actual symptom of it, but the thought of talking sexy talk for an hour when I am feeling like this leaves me feeling, at best, non-plussed. But I am a trouper, and I like that show and I think Dr. Drew tans very well, so I will give it the old college try. Besides he is a medical professional so maybe he can give me some of that intravenous anaesthetic that Michael Jackson had to take some of the edge off.

Low-level celebrities are dropping like flies. This does not portend well for me.

July 02, 2009

'The State' & 'Parker Lewis Can't Lose' DVD reviews - Sepinwall on TV

by Alan Sepinwall/The Star-Ledger
Thursday July 02, 2009, 6:10 AM

'90s comedies "Parker Lewis Can't Lose" & "The State" are both coming to DVD.

When you revisit something you loved when you were younger, there's always a danger it won't hold up under more mature eyes -- and that seeing it again could ruin fond memories. So it was with some trepidation that I cracked open a pair of new DVD releases of '90s comedies: "Parker Lewis Can't Lose," which I loved when I was in high school, and "The State," which I was obsessed with in college.

To my great relief, "The State" (which comes out on DVD on July 14) holds up remarkably well, give or take some legal issues. And while "Parker Lewis" (which came out earlier this week) hasn't aged as gracefully, it at least works as a time capsule of a certain era of comedy (and fashion).

"The State" boxed set, collecting the sketch comedy series that MTV aired from 1993-95, was, for years, the Loch Ness monster of TV-on-DVD: its existence oft-rumored, but never proved. At the time it aired, MTV had a deal with the major record labels to use their music on all of their shows, so "State" sketches were crammed with popular songs of the period. The problem was, that deal didn't apply to home video, so "The State" was stuck in legal limbo. (This is the same reason other shows like "The Wonder Years" and "China Beach" have never been released on DVD.)

Eventually, all the songs were stripped from the soundtrack and replaced by new instrumental scores, many of them designed to closely resemble the original. In "Pants," a sketch where Michael Ian Black realizes he needs to start wearing pants (as opposed to just underpants) so women will talk to him, the new track sounds remarkably like The Breeders' "Cannonball," which was such an integral part of the original sketch. (During one of many lively cast DVD commentaries, Ken Marino notes that the "Pants" music is different, and Thomas Lennon leaps down his throat to holler, "Well, kill it for everybody, why don't you, Grandpa?")

The replacement music is, unfortunately, never as good as a fit as what was once there, and it becomes awkward when the dialogue refers to the original tune. One of the series' more memorable recurring sketches featured Lennon and Black as Barry and Levon, '70s-style lounge lizards fond of sitting in giant mounds of pudding and dancing to Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" -- which becomes a problem when they talk about Marvin even as the soundtrack features a generic R&B track.

But even with the replacement soundtrack, much of "The State" set -- which features all 24 episodes the troupe made for MTV, plus an unaired pilot and a wealth of unaired sketches -- is wickedly, if bizarrely, funny.

Where MTV was often requesting recurring characters and a focus on pop culture spoofs, the cast's interest was in stranger areas. They would do recurring characters, but in odd ways, like a sketch where Barry, Levon, rebellious teen Doug (Michael Showalter) and catchphrase-repeating Louie (Marino) performed kabuki theater together. In one of the most durable "State" sketches, a marvel of deadpan timing combined with plot illogic, Black plays a suburbanite patiently trying to find out why his mailman (Kevin Allison) is delivering tacos instead of the mail. In another, a mustachioed, half-naked Lennon tries to solicit money for the U.S. Men's Bikini Thong Rollerblading Team, whose members perform classic plays of the '30s and '40s like "Our Town" and "Waiting for Lefty" clad in nothing but bikini thongs and inline skates; "For several reasons," he admits, "the US Men's Bikini Thong Rollerblading team is not sponsored by the Olympic Committee."

The tension between the troupe and the network is most obvious in "Porcupine Racetrack," an elaborate, largely joke-free mini-musical that Lennon introduces by explaining, "MTV asked us specifically not to do this skit." In the commentary, Robert Ben Garant says that, "MTV really didn't want us to do this one -- for obvious reasons."

But while the troupe fell apart after a brief, disastrous marriage with CBS (their one CBS special isn't on the DVD, alas), most of its members continue to work in movie and TV comedy, sometimes alone, sometimes together in projects like "Reno 911," "Wet Hot American Summer" and Comedy Central's upcoming "Michael and Michael Have Issues," which debuts the night after "The State" DVD is released.

With "Parker Lewis Can't Lose," a high school sitcom about a popular, conniving teenager (Corin Nemec), the alums still making an impact in the business are mostly behind the camera, and not always where you'd expect. Co-creator Clyde Phillips is one of the lead producers on Showtime's serial killer drama "Dexter," for instance, and directors Bryan Spicer and Rob Bowman later became institutions at "24" and "The X-Files," respectively.

It's not hard to see why. While the actual jokes on "Parker Lewis" feel fairly dated -- one episode, in a 30-second span, features punchlines about Vice President Quayle and the idea of Tom Petty as the biggest rock star in the world -- as do the wardrobes (Parker Lewis and Vanilla Ice apparently shopped at the same boutiques), the show's stylistic template still feels impressive, particularly compared to other comedies of the time.

Phillips and company were committed to giving the show the feeling of a live-action cartoon, with exaggerated sound effects and camera angles, and characters -- like Abraham Benrubi as gigantic bully Larry Kubiac, or Melanie Chartoff as wicked principal Grace Musso -- set a half-step away from reality. Later Fox comedies like "Malcolm in the Middle" owe a creative debt to "Parker Lewis."

"Parker Lewis" debuted in 1990, at the same time as NBC's "Ferris Bueller" remake, and while it was initially dismissed as a rip-off, it turned out to be the much better, and longer-lasting (it ran for three seasons), comedy. Where "Ferris Bueller" star Charlie Schlatter was so smug that he accentuated all of his character's most insufferable qualities, Nemec offered up the same kind of innate sweetness that Matthew Broderick brought to the original character in the big-screen "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

Watching "Parker Lewis" on DVD, I didn't exactly find myself wondering why I found it so funny nearly 20 years ago. It just felt like I had outgrown it. (If there was a way to digitally alter the fashions and remove all the period references, it wouldn't be hard to see these episodes doing well on the Disney Channel.)
Thankfully, I don't seem able to outgrow "The State." It's still blessedly silly and funny. And I suspect that those DVDs are going to get a lot of play in my house.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at asepinwall@starledger.com, or at 1 Star-Ledger Plaza, Newark, N.J. 07102-1200. Include your full name and hometown.

Less Than Two Weeks To Go!

Less than two weeks to go until our mighty new show premieres. I feel like my wife did when we were expecting our first child: nauseous and craving mashed potatoes. After a year of working on this show, it's exciting to see the whole thing finally coming together.

In the next couple weeks, Sho and I will be doing as much press as we can to promote the show. He's going to be on Letterman, I'm going on Ferguson, we're both going on Fallon, and lots of other print and radio stuff. Doing press is sort of fun and sort of a chore. The tough part is answering the same questions over and over again. Already, there are certain questions I've grown sick of:

1. So what are your "issues?"
2. Where's David Wain?
3. Which Michael gets top billing?
4. Why is Showalter such a dick?

The thing I am most looking forward to about finishing is getting to be with my family again, who I feel like I have not seen in two months. I guess the reason I feel that way is that I pretty much haven't seen them in two months. Once we started shooting, the hours were so long that I could only get home on the weekends, which made for a fairly monastic existence.
As populous as it is, New York can also be a lonely town, particularly if you make no effort to see anybody or do anything - which is what I did. That's because work is so energy-intensive that I just didn't want to hang out when I was done for the day. Consequently, my only friends during those long days were my internet connection and Ambien.

Once the press is done, I'm going to take off the rest of the summer and just be with the woman I love. And also my wife.