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Comedy Central Home Video presents
Upright Citizens Brigade: The Complete First Season (1998)

"From the dawn of civilization they have existed to undermine it."
- opening narration

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: November 30, 2003

Stars: Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, Matt Walsh, Ian Roberts
Other Stars: Andy Richter
Director: various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (occasional mature humor)
Run Time: 03h:42m:29s
Release Date: November 04, 2003
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

The comedic brilliance of the Upright Citizens Brigade only ran for a handful of seasons on Comedy Central, starting in 1998, and in its final days it was buttressed with another doomed show (the equally brilliant Strangers With Candy) to become one of the finest, and surely most seldom watched, subversive hours of sharp, clever humor to ever show up on television. Unlike Strangers With Candy, which is basically a twisted sitcom, UCB was essentially a twisted sketch comedy program, built around the immutable talents of Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, and Matt Walsh. Comedy Central has redeemed themselves somewhat for canceling the show by coming up with a winner in issuing the complete first season (ten episodes) on this superb two-disc set.

Each half-hour episode (well, twenty-two minutes without all of those annoying commercials) follows the exploits of the fictional UCB, a group of high-tech, well-funded, and uniformed radicals whose sole purpose is to cause chaos among the masses. From their secure underground bunker, UCB agents Adair (Besser), Colby (Poehler), Antoine (Roberts), and Trotter (Walsh) would launch a series of themed assaults (marketing, cyborgs, sex, etc), and that would form the underlying theme of the sketches to follow. In what would become the show's trademark, characters and objects would overlap from sketch to sketch (often in very subtle ways), and in most cases there would be a full convergence of some or all before each episode ended. Some of the references might take a while for a payoff, as does the recurring mention of the infamous lactating, trampoline-jumping rock stars, the Titte Brothers, which are sprinkled throughout these ten Season One episodes, and those characters only appear briefly in the season's final episode (The Little Donny Foundation).

Monty Python humor was famous for suddenly veering off in wholly unexpected directions, and unlike tired shows such as Saturday Night Live that try too hard to capture and emulate that spirit at times with forced, over-the-top situations, UCB could actually do it and make it work all the time. The inventive comedy of UCB was all Poehler, Besser, Roberts, and Walsh, and the four would portray every single one of the characters (sometimes three or more in the same sketch), beneath all manner of wigs, makeup, and accents, and they would seem to lose themselves inside each of the characters they played (no matter how silly the sketch), where as bloated, overblown mainstream comedy like Saturday Night Live seems to take pride in the blatant cue-card reading that occurs on a regular basis.

Typical (if there is such a thing) UCB comedy might focus on the poo stick (a stick with a piece of dog poo on the end), a man whose secret for success is inserting pennies in his rear, a club for ugly people, a fairy tale (with Andy Richter as a blood-covered Hansel) that morphs into a Pulp Fiction parody, or a young boy with a really, really long penis. Take a look at The Bucket of Truth episode, easily one of their best moments, which merges the Unabomber, girl scouts, a bucket that reveals all-knowing truth, a house with a "hot chick room," and a dead-on parody of a 1970s cop show featuring grizzled Captain Lunatic (he pronounces it Lou-Natic).

Just as the Python style of humor doesn't appeal to everyone, the off-balance and manic UCB school of comedy won't, either. This is another case of a show being too clever and too well-written to have succeeded in the lowest common denominator world of broadcast comedy, and this is no doubt one of the reasons for its inevitable cancellation.

After the demise of UCB, the cast could be seen popping up here and there, most notably with Ian Roberts as the "spirit fingers" guy from Bring It On or Amy Poehler as Ruth the Tourette's girl in Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, and I caught Matt Besser once on a television commercial, and Matt Walsh showed up briefly in Old School. It is more than a little ironic that Poehler eventually ended up on Saturday Night Live, a show that seems about as unchaotic and predictable as Everybody Loves Raymond, but I guess it beats not working.

The good news is that Roberts and Walsh starred together in 2002's oddball Martin &Orloff (along with Poehler, Besser, Janeane Garofalo, David Cross, and Andy Richter), and though that film never really received any kind of proper and formal release, there is always hope that it too will find an audience.

Just like the UCB.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: All episodes are presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and the overall image detail and clarity is noticeably soft. Black levels are tolerable but inconsistent, and color levels seem to fluctuate a bit from episode to episode. The presentation is certainly acceptable, but less than perfect.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is provided in a clean, hiss-free 2.0 stereo surround track that delivers all the clever dialogue in a presentable manner at all times. No significant imaging or separation, and not much in the way of flash or fluff, but a solid, workmanlike track all the way around.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 10 cues and remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Reno 911, Strangers With Candy, South Park
2 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Deleted Scenes
3 Featurette(s)
7 Feature/Episode commentaries by Amy Poehler, Matt Walsh, Ian Roberts, Matt Besser
Packaging: Tri-Fold Amaray with slipcase
Picture Disc
2 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: As if it weren't enough to simply compile the whole first season, Comedy Central has included a generous helping of fan-friendly supplemental UCB comedy. There are five traditional commentary tracks from Poehler, Besser, Walsh, and Roberts for The Bucket of Truth, Power Marketing, Cyborgs, The Little Donny Foundation, as well as the Pilot Episode. All the tracks provide a nice little background UCB history and some sketch development insight, and if you're a fan of the show you should find these quite rewarding and entertaining.

An extra commentary track for Time Machine was recorded before a live audience at New York's UCB Theater, and the cast fields questions from the audience. As an added plus, Besser, Poehler, and Roberts provide an in-character commentary track as Little Donny and his parents for The Little Donny Foundation that is the same vein as Spinal Tap providing commentary for their 'film'; it's surreal, funny, and a fine addendum to one of the landmark UCB episodes.

The Pilot Episode (25m:01s), which aside from featuring a completely bald (and slightly disturbing) Antoine, employs a distracting laugh track that was thankfully ditched. Shot on video, this trial installment looks less polished than subsequent episodes, and though it features variations on The Ugly Club, it includes the same Andy Richter-as-bloody-Hansel version of the Pulp Fiction/Toad skit that appeared in The Story of the Toad episode.

A grainy version of the deleted Highland Epoxy (01m:30s) scene, in which Amy Poehler huffs the "working man" adhesive of the title, is a classic, and has long been one of those hard-to-find files passed around in newsgroups and the like. There are also a pair of live performances from the UCB Theater, with the troupe performing Little Donny (04m:20s) minus the pixelated penis, and Andre The Giant (03m:01s), where they sing an homage to the hulking wrestler. I'll give you a dollar if the song isn't stuck in your head for hours afterwards: "Andre, Andre The Giant...."

There are also two Comedy Central UCB trailers (for a total runtime of 02m:38s), along with clips from Reno 911, Strangers With Candy, and South Park.

Each UCB episode merits one chapter stop, for a total of ten altogether.

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

Who or what is the Upright Citizens Brigade, you might ask?Only one of the funniest, inventive and subversive sketch comedy shows EVER, is all.

This two-disc collection of UCB's first season is quite simply a comic masterpiece, and the fan-worthy extras (like the pilot episode and the hilarious "Highland Epoxy" commercial) are all here as well, plus a handful of commentaries.

Highly recommended.


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