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Tuesday, August 12, 2008
  DVD Review: TV Funhouse

TV Funhouse is a short-lived series that aired on Comedy Central in 2000, a spinoff from the popular ‘Saturday TV Funhouse’ animated feature on Saturday Night Live (the ‘Saturday’ in the title apparently being the key difference between the properties). But as the DVD packaging helpfully states, there’s no content on this set from SNL (several of the SNL bits got packaged into their own DVD, The Best of Saturday TV Funhouse, available through another studio). Both the SNL segments and this show come from comedy writer Robert Smigel, who also created Triumph the Insult Comic Dog for Late Night with Conan O'Brien. This last bit is relevant because the same style of humour – crude puppets and even cruder jokes – are what TV Funhouse is (was?) all about.

Like an even-more-warped version of Pee-wee’s Playhouse, TV Funhouse is a spoof of children’s TV shows, and this version stars Doug (comedian Doug Dale), a dimwitted Mr. Rogers type who hosts shorts cartoons and other bits in a brightly-coloured set that he shares with the Anipals, a group of animal puppets that include a cat, some dogs, a duck, a lobster, a turtle and others. There are also a few real animals mixed in with the incredibly obvious puppets, and the show mines the juxtaposition between what are clearly puppets and real animals for comedy (another gag borrowed from Smigel’s Triumph skits on Conan) several times per episode. It’s a funny joke, but as I said, it’s in every episode, and it stops being funny pretty quick.

One of the show’s other recurring jokes are that the Anipals almost never participate in Doug’s themed show (Caveman Day, Astronaut Day, Mexicans Day – that’s right, not Mexican Day, Mexicans Day, plural), opting instead to do crazy things like go to Atlantic City to party with Triumph and Robert Goulet (who is totally game and hilarious) or go on Sally Jessy Raphael to try find a mate for an endangered African lizard.

The show’s style of humour is gleefully un-P.C., which is great, but the writers just go to the same handful of comedy wells too many times for my tastes. A shocking amount of the jokes are based around the visual of puppets humping each other (or puppets humping real animals if they want to mix things up a bit). It’s sort of funny in a crude way the first time, but I was surprised how often that particular gag was trotted out (at least four times in eight episodes, as far as I can recall). The real good stuff in TV Funhouse is, unsurprisingly, the cartoons, and they are almost all hilarious, and even the lesser among them is still better than any of the live-action puppet stuff. My favourite was ‘Wonderman,’ a parody of the 1940s Max Fleischer Superman cartoons, only this time the hero uses the goodwill created by his rescues and other feats to try to get his alter ego laid.

Overall, TV Funhouse made me laugh during many of the cartoons, but unfortunately they’re too few and far between, usually only a two or three each 20-minute episode. The rest is repetitive – and crude – puppet humour. There’s some good stuff here, but on the whole, I can see why this show didn’t last very long.



The TV Funhouse set collects eight episodes on two discs, and before I get into the actual content on the discs, I have to mention that the write-up on the back of the DVD package is easily the funniest I’ve ever read, managing somehow to both hype the show as something you should watch and also take several self-deprecating shots at its brief run. Pretty impressive.

The rest is somewhat standard DVD-extra fare: there’s commentary on all eight episodes with series creators Smigel and Dino Stamatopoulos and host Doug Dale. They’re often more interesting than the episodes themselves, if only because they’re all looking at the show eight years after its brief run, and they’re all pretty brutally honest about what works and what doesn’t, and that sort of candour is always appreciated in commentaries. And all three are pretty funny guys, so often that brutal honesty is also usually quite amusing.

There’s video commentary from Chickie, Jason, Xabu and Dave (four of the Anipals), and it’s basically just Smigel and friends goofing around in the commentary booth with the puppets, and they seemed to be having more fun dicking around than I had watching the results. There are also outtakes and some additional behind-the-scenes footage, but the outtakes aren’t really funny (they’re often about the frustrations of getting various puppet-related camera tricks to work properly), and the other stuff consists mostly of footage of the crew shooting the puppets, which isn’t exactly what I’d call scintillating viewing. Still, I appreciate the effort to pack in some bonus features for what’s otherwise just a short-lived TV show that probably deserved to be. TV Funhouse is hardly a lost gem of television comedy, but fans of Triumph and crude comedy in general will likely be entertained.

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