Yes, it's yet another comedy group from New York that got yet another comedy show on TV. According to urban lore, UCB replaced by Battlebots, a program which features nothing meant to be humorous, yet aired for quite some time on Comedy Central.
Upright Citizens Brigade
November 4, 2003
Over Four Hours
The show feels born of improv. That is, comedy made up on the fly, and on the show it's often made obvious by bits done on the street and pranks that are essentially a joke from the show thrust upon unsuspecting citizens. The show doesn't draw attention to the fact that it draws from its improv roots (like Whose Line Is It Anyway?) and the pranks don't really exist as a main focus of the show (like Punk'd) but the resulting program is, at times, quite possibly one of the funniest shows of its kind.
The cast plays a variety of characters as well as a quartet of secret agents out to undermine society, which works as the bookend to each half-hour program. As a linking mechanism between the bits, it works, and all of the shows come together at the end, bringing characters from the various scenes in a similar situation that brings the show to a logical and often hilarious end. The show is full of energy, and while some bits fall flat, this is a riot to watch and will easily endear itself to fans of Monty Python or Mr. Show, or would-be students of improv.
Included for your perusal are two discs with 10 full episodes which comprise the first season, a full pilot episode that borrows heavily from Mystery Science Theater 3000 in terms of some sets, and a few extras. Without giving too much away, the show focuses on cyborgs, explosions, racism toward astronauts, a bucket of truth, and a girl who gets guys drink and then has them do her Spanish homework. If you're willing to give it a chance for a few episodes, this is pretty much a guaranteed laugh for just about anyone. The humor is often quite clever, but the Brigade is fully aware that the audience for dick-and-fart humor is out there and does a few bits devoted to those two topics. And amazingly, they work pretty well either as funny bits in their own right or as a demonstration on how improv can turn out to be something more than just a simple game in which someone requests a relationship and you bellow out "priest and altar boy."
Some of the episodes have commentary tracks which basically explain that this show was the result of fans pestering Comedy Central for years demanding their release on DVD. Since they haven't aired the show in quite some time, and the show has a small loyal fanbase, this is a good thing. There's a lot of fun trivia in these tracks, and the decision to do commentaries for some shows but not all is particularly interesting. The fans apparently had input on which shows got comments, and it seems the fans chose wisely as the funniest bits are now more or less explained to the greatest extent we'll ever see.
If you're a fan of a 30-minute comedy program, or know someone that is, this is a DVD worth checking out. Sure, The Little Donny Foundation episode won't go down as a classic but it is funnier than just about anything airing on other, longer comedy programs these days. Since this set can be had for about $24 without too much trouble, it provides a lot of bang for the buck and, most importantly, is actually funny. There's no studio audience and sketches end fairly abruptly, so you don't have to sit around after the big laugh for them to get started on the next one.
Despite not being on the first season, you can find a laugh track and a studio audience in the pilot that sounds like they're enjoying themselves just a little too much. While the show is quite funny, at times it sounds like the kind of track you might hear on Dinosaurs or some of the TGIF sitcoms. This isn't to say the pilot isn't funny-- it's quite amusing and made of low-budget version of routines that would be redone throughout the first season-- but a critical ear might doubt the authenticity of the chuckles, chortles, and guffaws through the hilarity.
The show is a great example of the startling amount of untapped comedy there is out there. Sure, some of it is a little dated, but the video quality is good and the sound is clear, and there's really not much more you could ask for aside from better chapter stops. Of course, you probably won't need them... the show begs to be watched from start to finish, because so many of the sketches form one big joke at the end which draws from pretty much everything that came before. There's even a sequence at the end of the season that draws from a few throwaway lines during the other nine episodes, so the talent is obviously making sure viewers are paying close attention.
If you've seen a few episodes and didn't care for their style of humor, the extras probably won't make this disc worth buying. But, as always for discs of this nature, fans are sure to take delight in a cut scene, alternate footage, and even the episodes themselves. There are a lot of cameos to watch for as well as references to the founders of improv which, well, odds are mean nothing to you unless someone points them out to you or you've had a hand in that experience.
For the price, it's a fantastic value. If you enjoyed the Mr. Show discs, this should be your next purchase. If not, you should order those, too.
December 1, 2003