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The Ben Stiller Show

Born of a show done for MTV, The Ben Stiller Show aired on the then-fledging Fox channel from September 1992 to January 1993. Though critically acclaimed (it won an Emmy for writing), the sketch comedy series suffered from low ratings and got nixed after running 12 episodes of the 13 actually created. Previous to the series, comedian Stiller had a brief stint on Saturday Night Live and had been bumming around Hollywood for a while, but he hadn't found his niche. It's his fascination with failure and self-abuse that marks much of the comedy in his ill-fated TV program, which was prescient — many of his career choices floundered (notably this and The Cable Guy) until the successes of There's Something about Mary and Meet the Parents cemented his Tinseltown cachet. As for the show itself, it's structured around sketches bracketed by Stiller either at a location (such as a steam room or a set) with cast members Andy Dick, Janeane Garofalo, and Bob Odenkirk, or he's joined by a celebrity guest (including Garry Shandling, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Rob Morrow), who would then make fun of Ben and his show; guest Dennis Miller, for one, successfully predicted the series' demise. Though it's obvious that they hadn't figured out totally what their program should be (the first episode features plenty of Stiller, while later installments give the rest of the cast more to do), the show mixes a SCTV sensibility with an SNL predilection for parodies of TV ("Melrose Heights 90210-2402" parodied the inanity of Fox's then-popular teen soaps), celebrities ("Oliver Stoneland" features many of the director's works made into a theme park), and running characters like talent agent Michael Pheret (Stiller) who does nothing but pitch bad projects, and "Ask Manson," wherein the famous murderer (Odenkirk) offers advice and household hints. Some skits ("Amish Studs") require an affinity for pop-culture minutia to appreciate. But many bits are just insane little gags ("Ben Stiller's Wheel of Filler") or a sketch like "The Legend of T.J. O'Pootertoot's," in which a new waitress (Garofalo) working at a T.G.I. Friday's-esque theme restaurant finds out that the secret ingredient in their specialty dishes is human meat. Like any sketch show, there are spots that don't work, but no episode is without merit and the cast is all game with many laugh-out-loud funny moments, making one wish that Fox had given the series a little longer to come into its own. As David Cross began writing for the show in later episodes, and some of the sketches are directed by Troy Miller, one can also see the seeds of Mr. Show being planted. Warner presents all 13 episodes of The Ben Stiller Show on a two-disc DVD set in full-frame transfers and in 2.0 surround audio. Extras include outtakes; unaired sketches (with optional commentary); a brief history of the show featuring an excerpt from the MTV version (featuring a Richard Greico parody) and alternate versions of the pilot; the "E! Behind the Scenes" special; commentary on seven episodes featuring all of the cast members, co-creator Judd Apatow, and writers Grant Forrester, Rob Cohen, and David Cross; and an Easter egg. Dual-DVD digipak.

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