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MADtv: The Complete Second Season DVD Review

MADtv: The Complete Second Season DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com MADtv: Season Two (1996-97)
Show & DVD Details

Executive Producers: Fax Bahr, Adam Small (also TV developers); David Salzman, Quincy Jones, Steven Haft

Staff Writers: Fax Bahr, Garry Campbell, Blaine Capatch, Lauren Dombrowski, Chris Finn, Spencer Green, Tim Hightower, Brad Kaaya, Patton Oswalt, Adam Small, Mary Elizabeth Williams, Stuart Blumberg / Writing Supervisor: Brian Hartt / Select Sketch Writers: Leonard Dick, Brian Hartt, Mary Scheer, Steve Hibbert / Directors: John Blanchard, Gene Crowe; Matt Davis (segment)

Regular Cast: Bryan Callen, David Herman, Orlando Jones, Phil LaMarr, Artie Lange, Mary Scheer, Nicole Sullivan, Debra Wilson, Pablo Francisco, Tim Conlon

Guest Stars: Christina Applegate, Ice-T, Hot Dolla, Mr. Wesside, Powerlord Jell, Kim Coles, Jack Wagner, Taylor Negron, Neve Campbell, St. James Sanctuary Singers, Craig Anton, Kevin McDonald, Tony Cox (Mr. White), Joe Rogan, French Stewart, Harry Connick, Jr., The Funk Band, Andrea Martin, Tiny Lister (Bouncer), Brian Bosworth, Dom Irrera, Rodney Dangerfield, Queen Latifah, Bobcat Goldthwait, Pauly Shore, Thomas Calabro, Corky & The Juice Pigs, Mark Curry, Ike Turner, Adam Arkin, Bob Marley, Ryan Stiles, David Faustino, L.L. Cool J

Running Time: 943 Minutes (22 episodes) / Rating: TV-14

1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None; Not Closed Captioned / Season 2 Airdates: September 21, 1996 - May 17, 1997
Suggested Retail Price: $29.93 / DVD Release Date: March 26, 2013
Four single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s) / Clear Keepcase

Buy MADtv: The Complete Second Season DVD from Amazon.com

For fourteen seasons, Fox offered a clear alternative to one of NBC's oldest and most famous comedy institutions, "Saturday Night Live", in "MADtv". Adapted from the satirical magazine whose medium gave it decreasing relevance in the electronic age, "MADtv" received little Emmy attention outside of technical categories and only posed a minor threat to "SNL" in the ratings.
It would give rise to no movie stars to rival those who had begun as Not Ready For Primetime Players or even those who paid their dues on Fox's "In Living Color." Its sketches never enjoyed the water cooler status (now simply called "viral") that the most successful bits of NBC's storied program did. But "MADtv" took to the airwaves a half-hour ahead of "SNL" and that alone made it of some interest, especially to the young people who made up a large chunk of its audience.

Media giant NBC Universal couldn't make complete chronological DVD sets of "SNL" viable beyond Season Five. Perhaps it is no surprise then that Warner Home Video struggled to make "MADtv" DVDs a profitable enterprise. The Complete First Season was released at the height of the TV-on-DVD boom back in September 2004 with a preview for the second season's release. Instead, the following year saw Warner release a Best of Seasons 8, 9 & 10 disc collecting highlights from the three most recently aired seasons. That approach evidently didn't work either and now in 2013, Warner finally has licensed the show to Shout! Factory, a company that specializes in TV on DVD and has often managed to issue sets that satisfy both fans and the bottom line.

Shout! will release the four-disc, 16-hour The Complete Second Season DVD on March 26, 2013. If the currently low sales rank on Amazon despite a reasonable $29.93 list price is any indication, this might be the last "MADtv" DVD for the time being. On the other hand, as one of the first collaborations between Shout! and Warner, this release could pave the way for the many popular television series whose home video future has been clouded and jeopardized by sales figures that Warner has deemed unsatisfactory, not to mention shows never given a chance on DVD (like the "Beetlejuice" cartoon Shout! will release in May).

This is one of many "MADtv" title logos supplied in Season 2's opening credits. Michael Jackson (Phil LaMarr) threatens the planet in his appearance on Oprah Winfrey's talk show.

Unsurprisingly, if you were alive and cognizant in the mid-1990s,
"MADtv" offers a trip down memory lane, whether or not you ever watched the show. The pixelated photos of costumed cast members on the front and back of the DVD case artwork give some idea of what to expect, with impersonations of Dennis Rodman at the height of his bad boy fame on the record-setting Chicago Bulls and Michael Jackson back when he was still making music and not simply a train wreck spectacle.

The list of celebrities tapped to host the hour-long series (taped before a live studio audience, but not broadcast live) gives us a very clear understanding of the show's reach and status in the 1996-97 season. For the most part, the entertainers who accepted Fox's offers were individuals who had not received a similar opportunity from NBC. Two had been an SNL musical guest (Harry Connick, Jr., LL Cool J), two had hosted (Rodney Dangerfield in 1980, Christina Applegate in '93), and two would get to host in the future (Neve Campbell in '97, Queen Latifah in 2004). Most of the rest would not appear on SNL except in maybe a passing impression (e.g. French Stewart, Bobcat Goldthwait).

Like any sketch show, "Saturday Night Live" always seems to have been hit and miss, but it has made countless iconic contributions to pop culture, most of them as a fun house mirror held up to newsmakers and society. "MADtv" aspires to the same brand of entertainment, only it arrived twenty years later, its connection to the parody-driven magazine merely nominal, and that legacy of satire not really felt among the B and C-list celebrities and young comedians on a Saturday late night slot on what back then still kind of felt like a second-class network (albeit one rising on the enduring appeal of "The Simpsons" and "The X-Files").

Many of the signature "MADtv" cast members like Michael McDonald and Alex Borstein, had not yet arrived by Season Two. Of this cast, only Debra Wilson, Nicole Sullivan, and Phil LaMarr stuck around for five seasons or longer. Seemingly popular performers Orlando Jones and Bryan Callen would leave after Season 2. Artie Lange didn't even last that long, jumping ship midway through the season (though remaining in the opening credits to the end). David Herman and Mary Scheer would each depart after Season 3.

The 1990s styles of News X's Generation X anchors Amy (Nicole Sullivan) and Marsh (David Herman) will take you back in time. "Cabana Chat" with Miss Dixie Wetsworth (Mary Scheer) is Season 2's most frequently recurring sketch.

Sketch comedy shows written week to week enjoy greater topicality than traditionally scripted television programming. That makes "MADtv", even without a regular "Weekend Update" news segment of jokes pulled from the headlines, both more prone to dating and more able to supply nostalgia. Both of those qualities define the experience of watching this season in 2013. The series is so very dated. Many of the guest stars (Pauly Shore, Mark Curry, Jake Wagner) and joke targets (Hootie and the Blowfish, UPN, the 1996 presidential election, "Party of Five") are things you haven't given much thought to this century. Not much of it is all that funny. Some of it entertains. And nonetheless, if you are the right age, i.e. your pop cultural awareness peaked sometime in the 1990s, this will make for enjoyable, effortless viewing even if you're not regularly cracking up.

Compared to "SNL", this season's "MADtv" cast is small but quite diverse. Three of the eight regular performers are women. Three of the eight are black. Though all show the range needed for sketch comedy, every actor has a certain type they're most frequently asked to embody: Lange is the go-to working man and sales pitch man, Callen is the naif and male bimbo, Sullivan claims the daft and childlike roles, Wilson has the sassy woman act down pat, Jones embraces the more bizarre characters, LaMarr is comfortable in everything from button-downed desk jockey to gangsta rapper, and Herman is your typical TV presenter or authority figure.

While recurring sketches have been a treasured staple of "SNL", that is something of a weakness on this show in this season. The most frequently employed bit is "Cabana Chat", a talk show hosted by the randy, surgically enhanced Miss Dixie Wetsworth (Scheer) and her thonged boy toys. It's heavy on innuendo and altogether void of humor. "Lowered Expectations", a video dating service for the "desirably impaired", isn't much better. "News X" offers Generation X's opinions on current events, its hosts, the pierced Amy (Sullivan) and goateed Marsh (Herman) reminding us of grunge culture and fashion. Various ill-conceived products from a corporation named Spishak are less formulaic and more reliably diverting. As are bits involving a restless UBS delivery guy (LaMarr), who is always seen in his brown work shorts. The demeaning behavior of the Vancome Lady (Sullivan), who is never referred as that here, was one of the show's more popular and enduring fixtures.

Spy vs. Spy animated shorts, adapted from the magazine comic strip, are at odds with the rest of "MADtv." Bill Cosby (Orlando Jones) unleashes his urban side in "Cosby's Crib."

Efforts to tie this show to the magazine of the same name (e.g. Alfred E. Neuman featuring prominently in the opening credits) are mostly futile and would be phased out over time. Shorts adapted from the magazine's recurring comic strip "Spy vs. Spy" appear in every episode, but they and most other outside-produced animated bits feel out of place. Though used sparingly, political humor feels especially forced. Impressions of Bill Clinton and Bob Dole also call attention to another problem area for the show: atrocious aging make-up, which is strange since make-up would be the subject of most of the show's later Emmy awards.

Since it didn't air live and therefore didn't require commercial breaks for hasty costume and set changes, the show runs pretty close to a standard hour of mid-'90s commercial television airtime and supplies only a little less comedy than what "SNL" delivers in 90 minutes on air, after its two music performances and many breaks are deducted. "MADtv" guest stars only appear in a few sketches each week and do not have the same monologue demands as "SNL", though the small, casual living room set stage is still employed for a comparable short, relaxed opening and playful send-off.

On DVD here, each episode is presented with opening preview, the oh-so-'90s behind-the-scenes transitional clips (filler!), and on-air rating (with various letters attached to TV-14) intact. In addition, based on the consistent runtimes and lack of a disclaimer, episodes appear to be unedited, with the few musical performances intact (most of the music featured on the show is sound-alike riffs of fitting famous music, from Michael Jackson to Randy Newman).

I've written succinct sketch descriptions for reference, condensing recurring bits and excluding "Spy vs. Spy." You obviously needn't read them all the way through, but scanning over them will give you an idea of the show's comedic sensibilities. If the celebrity doesn't appear in the guest stars section of the table above, then their appearance on the show is in the form of a "MADtv" cast member's impression.

As Christina Applegate discusses the universe, MADtv puts a dancing woman in a bikini (Caroline Key Johnson) alongside her. On "Live with Regis and Kathie Lee", Kathie Lee Gifford (Nicole Sullivan) addresses her 1996 sweatshop scandal with a clip from a telemovie. The stop motion short "Sex Toy Story" parodies "Toy Story" in affectionate but unfunny fashion.

Disc 1

1. Christina Applegate (42:53) (Originally aired September 21, 1996)
Bob Dole advertises a multi-purpose strong arm for his supporters. Applegate proves she's no airhead by discussing the universe (which "MADtv" spices up for younger male viewers). News X offers Generation X's opinions on current events. Wacky mental illness is on display in "Schizophrenic Jeopardy!" In the WB sitcom "That's My White Mama", framed as the most offensive thing on television, Mama (Lange) worries about her son's white boyfriend. Michael Jackson is police officer "Action Jackson."
A woman pantomimes responsibility at a man's funeral. A doctor excitedly unveils his time machine (a bed). An aged Snoop Doggy Dogg rings in 2046 with raps about old age. A man disputes that he peed in his friends' kitchen.

2. Ice-T (42:52) (Originally aired September 28, 1996)
A car blows up in the stop-motion opening . Ice-T praises the show's cast for not being racial, then introduces only the black actors. Bob Dole remakes himself as Dolemite to woo black voters in a presidential debate. Chuck Stank promotes his plumbing service in an unusual way. Ice-T appears on the first installment of "Cabana Chat." Chiropractor cartoon. Kathie Lee Gifford addresses her scandalous sweatshop connections with clips from a TV movie on "Live with Regis and Kathie Lee." Bruce asserts his heterosexuality on his show "Bruce Ain't Gay." A monosyllabic pizzeria employee struggles to draw up an accurate promotional sign. Ice-T and friends perform "Bouncin' Down the Strezeet" while representing the West Side. The episode concludes with Frank Gifford outtakes from the telemovie.

3. Kim Coles (42:53) (Originally aired October 5, 1996)
A wife leaves a husband for his uncontrollable masturbation. "In Living Color" star Coles and Jones have their memories jogged in the monologue. Helpful Hand's insurance agent scolds his clients like a stern father. A sassy Latina substitute teacher turns algebra class into a sex ed lesson. Ike and Tina Turner put aspects of themselves into their versions of "Little Red Riding Hood", "Goldilocks", and "The Three Little Pigs." The Vancome Lady turns celebrities away from the Betty Ford Clinic. Toy Story is faithfully sent up in the stop-motion short Sex Toy Story. A tanning salon run by dark-skinned owners isn't what it seems. A man's parents embarrass him in front of his girlfriend. A man's grandmother says inappropriate things. A rabbit fur furniture store advertises low prices in the face of vocal opposition.

Guest comedian Taylor Negron reads from his diary. Bob Dole (David Herman) drops in on Neve Campbell in "Republican Party of Five." Zombie-like employees of Walls-Mart are ready to help you.

4. Jack Wagner (42:52) (Originally aired October 19, 1996)
After an episode-opening ad for once-a-year Maxi Pads, "Melrose Place" actor Wagner plays golf and appears on "Cabana Chat." A hockey coach tries to pump up his team at halftime. A trailer promotes Mother of Mercy!, a Mother Teresa movie starring an oft-disrobed Demi Moore. The co-worker of a new office employee goes to extreme lengths to get him the supplies he needs. Presidential candidates try to impress the pre-teen demographic with a debate at a middle school. A woman about to become Dr. Kevorkian's 100th assisted suicide has second thoughts. Taylor Negron drops by to read from his diary. A sports agent tries to cushion the blow of a baseball player's demotions. In a cartoon, a diner is served more than just ham.

5. Neve Campbell (42:53) (Originally aired November 2, 1996)
An hysterical witness testifies in court. Freed from the heavy drama of "Party of Five", Campbell tries her hand at telling a joke. A car wax protects against water damage, but nothing else as a prolonged demonstration illustrates. News X's reports on the presidential election become more about Amy's relationship. An infomercial promotes "Dentist in a Box." Campbell's series gets sent up in the obligatory "Republican Party of Five" sketch featuring Bob Dole. A trailer for Dead McMahon Walking recasts Ed McMahon in Sean Penn's role of the Oscar-winning death row drama. A black church choir promotes their sponsors. A shirtless Craig Anton rants about the things he hates and loves. A traveler is subjected to intense airport; questions about the World Trade Center and terrorist organization seem even less funny now than they did then.

6. Kevin McDonald (42:53) (Originally aired November 9, 1996)
A couple treats their parents like animals. Tony Cox appears as McDonald's diminutive bodyguard. A series of Walls Mart commercials paint the retail giant's employees as zombies. An infomercial promotes Shock Treatment in a Box. A trailer shows Snoop Dogg and Rosie Perez starring in Woody Allen's new South Central urban drama Annie Ho. The UBS guy rushes through a date at his place. The Vancome Lady is an obnoxious blackjack dealer. Friends try to cheer up a man having a traumatic day with Pictionary. McDonald delivers a monologue about the monologues he wasn't allowed to do. A teenager's parents try to tape him losing his virginity.

"Be-Bitched" parodies "Bewitched" with Samantha having a bitchy alter ego (Debra Wilson). French Stewart reads his favorite fable. The blonde braids are fake, the squint is real. The Terminator journeys back in time to first century Nazareth to protect Jesus in "The Greatest Action Story Ever Told."

Disc 2

7. Joe Rogan (42:53) (Originally aired November 16, 1996)
A grocery store check-out is an exciting adventure for a recent "Price is Right" contestant. Rogan, then known from "NewsRadio", delivers a profane rant on Thanksgiving. "Be-Bitched" parodies "Bewitched" with Samantha having a sassy black alter ego. Joe Rogan appears on "Cabana Chat." A claymation investigative report reveals how the California Hollywood Raisins went from hit musicians to serial killers. New game show "Trick Question!" proves to be easy as it lives up to its title. A redneck couple fights and makes up. A black and white sketch has a gangster tell a dense boxer to take a dive. A family experiences an oddly emotional Thanksgiving.

8. French Stewart (42:53) (Originally aired December 7, 1996)
"Lowered Expectations" is introduced. "3rd Rock from the Sun" actor Stewart reads from his favorite fable in blonde pigtails. An ad promotes Serenity Acres, a senior citizen corral. A job applicant is encouraged to speak quickly. To his mother's disbelief, an excitable boy on Ritalin witnesses and reports horrific things being done by the man making their pizza.
"Incredible Findings" unveils Cosmetic Surgery in a Box. In an editorial, Bill Cosby shows off clips from his new urban show "Cosby's Crib." Workmates share increasingly mean-spirited impressions over dinner. A woman and her regular ATM experience relationship troubles.

9. Harry Connick, Jr. (42:53) (Originally aired December 14, 1996)
This holiday episode goes heavy on "Spy vs. Spy" with four such shorts. Two black preachers remind us of the true meaning of Christmas (something to do with Connick's new album). Deliverymen from competing services duel at an office building. The Terminator protects Jesus in a trailer for The Greatest Action Story Ever Told. Connick Jr. appears in drag as Dixie's friend on "Cabana Chat." Rankin/Bass' Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer meets The Godfather makeover in the stop-motion short Alfred E. Puzo's The Reinfather, one of the show's most clever and Mad magazine-like bits. A classless Christmas play featuring the Vancome Lady as Mary has creative differences. A recovering former alcoholic is disappointed by her Christmas gifts. Connick sings "This Guy's in Love with You."

A made-up Artie Lang appears in "LA Valet", a parody of Steven Bochco's hard-hitting television dramas. 1970s cop show "Cocoa and LeBlanc" (starring Debra Wilson and Mary Scheer) upholds the sports theme of the Superbowl Special.

10. Andrea Martin (42:56) (Originally aired January 4, 1997)
Kalvin Clein advertises a cologne for rugged men. "SCTV" alum Martin acknowledges her cast, which she appreciates in the midst of a one-woman show. A secret meeting comes up with black slang to stay ahead of the whites who appropriate it. A Christian rock band's groupies gossip while they try to get backstage at a concert. An average alcoholic awakens to learn that he has been elected President of the United States. A look at the Steven Bochco action drama series "LA Valet" offers another one of the show's rare pitch-perfect parodies. An executive soon becomes desensitized to firing employees. A pediatrician turned gynecologist treats his patient like kids with a speculum puppet. A crazy old woman is questioned about the recovered bodies of her alleged intruders. Martin explains why she doesn't date in a personal rant.

11. Superbowl Special (42:53) (Originally aired January 25, 1997)
We hear Whitney Houston's thoughts as she sings the National Anthem off-key at the Super Bowl. This hostless episode allows Orlando Jones to rant on Los Angeles' lack of an NFL team. An ad touts the celebratory nature of Gratorade. A man catches his wife cheating on him with, to his excitement, Brian Bosworth. '70s TV series "Cocoa and LeBlanc" centers on an interracial pair of undercover cops. Multiple promos advertise post-Super Bowl Fox sitcom premiere "The Lumberjack, The Alien and The Bedridden Mom." The obnoxious Vancome Lady interviews a college football team following a loss. Beer bottles do football battle for Vud Bowl V in a stop-motion short. A football team's owner fires a mascot bear who blew a big game. Dennis Rodman answers children's letters. The UBS deliveryman crashes and disturbs a co-worker's Super Bowl party. Dom Irrera delivers a monologue about sports.

Continue to Page 2 >>
Discs 3 & 4, Video & Audio, Bonus Features, Menus & Packaging, and Closing Thoughts

Buy MADtv: The Complete Second Season on DVD at Amazon.com

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Reviewed March 8, 2013.

Text copyright 2013 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1996-97 Quincy Jones David Salzman Entertainment, Bahr Small Productions, Warner Bros. Television, and 2013 Shout! Factory.
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