The Ben Stiller Show

The Ben Stiller Show was a half-hour sketch comedy show that lasted half a season about a decade ago before being relegated to the pile of television could-haves, but given the rise of its participants (Stiller is joined by Janeane Garafolo, Andy Dick, Mr. Show's Bob Odenkirk and others) the cult status of this show has grown in recent years to reach almost mythic "lost potential" status. And there are certainly a number of moments in this collection of filmed sketches that justify that reputation; however, the inconsistency of the writing and performances, the under-use of Garafolo, Dick and especially Odenkirk, and the overuse of certain recurring impressions or characters (Stiller's Bono and Springsteen in particular) make The Ben Stiller Show an occasionally hilarious but uneven show. But the highs? They're very good. Stiller's Bono, though overused, is a pretty bang-on assessment of the Irish U2 singer's pseudo-political bent as he comically shills for Lucky Charms and turns Zoo TV into a late-night talk show. Film, TV and music parodies are the show's bread and butter, and remaking Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives as a monster movie parody is particularly biting. The weaknesses, ironically, are right up there on the screen, pointed out by various guest "hosts" like Larry Sanders star Garry Shandling. (Stiller Show co-creator Judd Apatow, who went on to create cult series like Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, was a Sanders consulting producer.) Shandling, Dennis Miller and Bobcat Goldthwait all skewer the show's format and Miller in particular decries the show's emphasis on filmed segments over "live" sketch comedy that might have infused a little energy into the ensemble. And a little life is exactly what this show needs sometimes. Given the now known improv power of its participants, insisting on shoehorning them into this structure hacks their best skills off at the knees. Still, there's never less than half a worthy show in each of these 13 episodes and sometimes the highlights (Sesame Street parody "Counting with Bruce Springsteen" is one) will have you on the floor. Extras include a final, unaired 13th episode, early versions filmed for MTV, and a short making-of doc, as well as thankfully cut outtakes with commentary by the participants, but the real treat is to finally have this show to watch at all. This DVD thing is a wonder! (Warner)