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Thursday, November 14, 2013

DVD Review: MADtv: The Complete Fourth Season

By the fourth season of MADtv, many of its characters were firmly established, and already beloved by the fans. With some of these characters, the cast tried new angles. For example, Ms. Swan (the character that opens the fourth season, causing the audience to go nuts) works as a phone sex operator, gets hypnotized, goes on the Dating Game (which is totally hilarious) and even sings along with the MADtv theme song at the beginning of an episode.

The cast for this season was Alex Borstein, Andrew Bowen, Mo Collins, Pat Kilbane, Phil LaMarr, Michael McDonald, Will Sasso, Aries Spears, Nicole Sullivan and Debra Wilson. This season didn’t see nearly as many guest stars as the previous season. But certain episodes feature such folks as Kevin Sorbo, Kerri Russell, Robert Englund and KISS. KISS appear in a couple of sketches in the Halloween episode, but do not perform (and for that I’m thankful). Bret “The Hitman” Hart also appears in a few episodes, with a running stunt gag along the lines of something Fridays did much earlier with Andy Kaufman. (Fridays worked in part because it was a live program. MADtv was not.)

The entire cast is talented, and each cast member has plenty of chances to shine this season, but Will Sasso is one of my personal favorites. The sketch with him as Randy Newman recording music for the new Star Wars film is completely hilarious. Also, the hotel reception desk skit is great, with Will Sasso refusing to leave frame. He could have kept that going for the entire episode, and it would never have lost its charm. I also love the parody of Whose Line Is It Anyway, with Will Sasso as Drew Carey saying, “Isn’t improv hilarious? Anything could happen, and one day something might.”

There are plenty of other great sketches. One of my favorites is the virtual reality center for seniors. An old lady exclaims, “I wet myself on the moon.” Debra Wilson, as the woman pitching the services, says they have miles of scenic hiking trails, and we see a shot of an elderly man repeatedly walking into a wall. And the skit in the fourth episode with the mother and daughter talking about female issues is absolutely wonderful. There is also a great sketch about Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan playing John and Patsy Ramsey. And I love the bit about the Saturn car company, where it’s portrayed as a freaky cult like Scientology.  There is another great skit about the Jeffersons moving into the house of Thomas Jefferson.

One of the show’s great strengths is its series of fake commercials. The fake ad for children’s clothing in the season’s second episode is excellent (clothing related to school shootings), as is the ad for the bowl in the third episode. There are also ads for Clinton collector plates and KISS life-size action figures.

I love the ad for Yule Blazers, plutonium-based Christmas lights. “Spishak geologists harvest high-quality plutonium from the scenic New Jersey coastline.” It just gets better and better, with the bit about the kitten completely cracking me up. And then there’s a dance and a song. This is certainly one of the funniest fake commercials they ever did. It is perhaps surpassed, however, by the Heroin PM ad in the twentieth episode.

One weakness the show has is that it reuses material from previous seasons. For part of the season, these repeated skits are called “MADtv Classics,” and then in the fourteenth episode a repeat is introduced as being “From the archives of MADtv,” but then later in the season they drop any such warning and just let the repeated skits play. Some of the episodes, but not all, have Spy Vs. Spy cartoons, and most of those are repeated from earlier episodes. And of course certain sketches go nowhere, but that’s to be expected from any sketch comedy show. Some of the skits featuring favorite characters become a little stale (such as the Ms. Swan Christmas shopping skit, and some of the Stuart skits). But the final episode of this season proves that fart jokes can still be funny if done right.

And remember this important acting tip from Keanu Reeves: “When you’re acting, you want to make your mind a complete blank.”

MADtv: The Complete Fourth Season contains all twenty-five episodes on four discs, and was released on November 12, 2013 through Shout! Factory.

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