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Paramount 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: September 18, 2007

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

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult language and situations)
Run Time: 03h:42m:29s
Release Date: September 18, 2007
UPC: 097368522749
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AB-B A

DVD Review

This is a reissue of the first season release, with the only difference being a slight change in the packaging and cover art to match the new, previously unreleased season two set. The following review is taken from my 2004 review, with the only other changes addressed in the Extras section:

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 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 by 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) followed the exploits of the fictional UCB, a group of high-tech, well-funded, and uniformed radicals whose sole purpose is to cause chaos amongst 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 mentions 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 like 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 the 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 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 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 (only he pronounces it Lou-Natic).

Just as the Python style of humor never appealed to everyone, the off-balance and manic UCB school of comedy didn't (and probably still won't) appeal to everyone 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 is no doubt one of the reasons for its inevitable cancellation.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

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


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 50 cues and remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Drawn Together: Season Two, The Best Of Chappelle Show: Uncensored, Reno 911!: Season Four
2 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Deleted Scenes
3 Featurette(s)
7 Feature/Episode commentaries by Amy Poehler, Matt Walsh, Ian Roberts, Matt Besser
Packaging: Thinpak
Picture Disc
2 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Designed to match the Season Two set, this release ditches the foldout case found on the 2004 version and substitutes a pair of Thinpak cases housed inside of a slipcover. The artwork is largely identical to the old release, just arranged differently, with the most obvious difference being the UCB name now appear along the top, instead of the bottom.

Also, there are now five chapter stops per episode, instead of the original one. The Comedy Trailers included on both disc one and two reflect current programming, but all of the other UCB-specific supplemental material (including fullmotion menu structure) has remain unchanged.

The following extras review is taken directly from 2004 review of the original season one release:

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 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 - "Andre, Andre The Giant...."

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-worth extras (like the pilot episode and the hard-to-find Highland Epoxy commercial) are all here as well, plus a handful of commentaries.

Highly recommended.

 


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