Comedy Central's TV Funhouse

Being innovative in comedy usually has one reward: obscurity. Sure, you’ll be cited by the more successful folks who perfect your formula but as pioneers, the best you’ll usually get is an historic footnote. In the modern age, that footnote is the "complete series DVD set,” which Robert Smigel now enjoys for his Comedy Central series TV Funhouse. Unusually, Smigel translated his efforts here into actual later success, predominantly his Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (who makes an appearance) and his TV Funhouse animation shorts for Saturday Night Live, like the Ambiguously Gay Duo (alas, none of those appear). As originally conceived, this was a variety-style show hosted by idiot Doug Dale, who’s surrounded by animals both puppet and real who skip off to get drunk and vomit, violate other animals and occasionally introduce animated short films. All eight episodes are loosely "themed” — Mexican Day or Astronaut Day — but only Dale gets stuck with that material, for the most part. Pitched somewhere between Meet the Feebles and Avenue Q, having animal puppets say horribly racist and offensive jokes takes the edge off to a certain extent; it’s the forerunner of other boundary pushers like Wonder Shozen or Puppets Who Kill. Its one-off animations — "The Immigrant, the Old Guy and the Kid on Mushrooms” for one, or a detective agency formed by Margot Kidder, Robert Downey, Jr. and Anne Heche — are usually the highlights, but there’s always a good poop-eating gag or a truly offensive limit-crosser. But too often the live action filler drags down the pace of the show and shocking occasionally overtakes funny. But if you’re a fan of the direction adult comedy has taken in the last decade, TV Funhouse was right there at the starting line. Plus: commentaries, outtakes and more. (Paramount)