Saturday, November 5, 2011

Continuing Saga Of Anti-After School Specials: Strangers With Candy Season 2!

The Good: Funny, Decent acting, Impressive guest stars, Maria Thayer
The Bad: Very repetitive plots, No character development, One trick pony, DVD bonus
The Basics: In its second season, Strangers With Candy continues doing more of the same thing it has been doing from the beginning; being an irreverent parody of morality tales.

Strangers With Candy is one of those phenomenon that, it seems, you either "get" or you don't. That is not to say that one either likes it or not (it's easy to fall in on the middle ground on this series), it's either one understands the twisted concept and worldview or it is completely alien to the viewer. I, fortunately for you, "get" Strangers With Candy. And even understanding the twisted world-view this show is coming from, there were still moments in the second season that I was surprised they got away with some of what they say and do on the show.

One of the DVD bonuses on the season two set is an interview between four of the principle actors and a member of the Museum of Television and Radio. It becomes clear, quite quickly, in the interview that the interviewer does not "get" Strangers With Candy. His inability to regroup and adapt when those he is interviewing don't understand his question or position makes the interview slow and graceless. I'm almost surprised they let the piece be put on the DVD set.

The second season of Strangers With Candy picks up virtually where the first left off. Jerri Blank is a 46 year old freshman at Flatpoint High. As in the first season, she does not grow, she does not learn and the show speeds through complex issues by making sure Jerri learns the opposite of what one would expect. As with the first season, she is overseen by Principal Blackman, History and English teacher Mr. Noblet, and the supremely egotistical art teacher Mr. Jellineck.

Just as in the first season of Strangers With Candy, the show is not truly about the misadventures of Jerri Blank and/or the other denizens of Flatpoint High. Rather, this is simply ten episodes of crazy television designed to parody the after school specials of the 70s and 80s. Does it accomplish that? Absolutely. Does it create hilarious television? Undoubtedly. Is it worth your time and money? Probably not.

Why wouldn't I recommend this show if it is Undoubtedly funny and an effective parody of after school specials? The fundamental problem with Strangers With Candy is not found in any single episode. Indeed, each of the ten episodes in this boxed set is quite funny on its own. The problem is the season (and the series) viewed all together. Strangers With Candy suffers immensely for its repetitiveness. The reversals are all the same; they always lead to Jerri learning the exact opposite of what we, the audience, would usually expect. Thus, as the season goes on, we anticipate each and every reversal.

So, for example, in the episode "The Goodbye Guy," wherein Jerri must deal with the death of her father, the setup is funny. Mr. Blank is eaten by a pack of rabid dogs after promising Jerri to run in the father-daughter sackrace. After wonderful scenes that are parodies of every show that would dramatically deal with death, Jerri appears at the sackrace with her father's ashes. In a melodramatic scene, she wins the sackrace. However, because we - the audience who is attuned to the show by this point - know that nothing good ever happens to Jerri and that she never grows and changes, we see the reversal (Jerri being disqualified because less than half her father's ashes make it across the finish line) a mile away.

In season two of Strangers With Candy, the show has parodies of specials with issues like following your dreams, handicapped awareness, pressure to have sex, death, the importance of telling the truth, illiteracy, marriage and commitment, cults and money. Taken separately, all of the episodes are quite funny and I am glad I saw them once. However, as the discs continued, the episodes became somewhat tired and repetitive.

Amy Sedaris is wonderful as Jerri Blank. One of the few nice things about the interview at the Museum of Television and Radio is that we are treated to seeing Ms. Sedaris outside her role as Jerri Blank. She is quite striking, articulate and funny in a witty way in the interview and it makes us appreciate just how creative and inspired her performance during the show truly is.

Stephen Colbert, Greg Hollimon and Paul Dinello each give distinctive performances, but there is no change between their portrayals of their characters between the seasons or the episodes. Thus, the best their performances may be described as is "constant."

The real treat in season two is being able to see more of Maria Thayer. Thayer plays the redhead friend of Jerri, Tammi Littlenut. She is adorable, genuine and breathes some additional humor into the show.

Strangers With Candy is ideal for those with a real sick sense of humor and for those who are not easily offended. It is ideal for those who have a high tolerance to seeing essentially the same thing over and over again. But most of all, it is idea for those who have never seen "Strangers With Candy;" because there is much to enjoy. Plus, the advantage of the show being so repetitive is that it does not matter if you've ever seen an episode of the show. Buying and watching season two before seeing season one is perfectly fine. The characters do not develop and the plots are all parodies of themed issue-based specials.

This was a close call for me, but ultimately the repetitive nature of the humor and plots made me not recommend it.

For other sophmore seasons of comedies, please visit my reviews of:
30 Rock - Season 2
Friends - The Complete Second Season
Arrested Development - Season Two


For other television reviews, be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2005 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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