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For close to thirty years, the late Saturday television landscape has been dominated by one program, NBC’s Saturday Night Live. In 1995, as the classic show was showing some signs of aging, FOX television felt it was time to strike and it debuted the sketch comedy program MADtv.

The Series
Based on the famous magazine of the same name, MADtv is, at its heart, a sketch comedy program. Unlike its late night competitor SNL, however, MADtv stays true to its parent and spends the majority of its time doing parodies of famous television shows, movies, commercials and other pop culture references. And the parodies do cut to the quick in many instances. In the hands of the eight member cast, one of the better send ups involves a parody of Baywatch, in a skit where the pig from Babe joins the lifeguard squad, making the crew now…you guessed it…”Babewatch”. One technique both the magazine and the show utilizes is the combination of two famous movies into one sketch, such as the hilarious gags of “Gump Fiction” where Forrest Gump is suddenly thrust into a Quentin Tarantino film, or “When Harry Met Willy”, in which the famous whale from the movies is paired with Billy Crystal. It is something to see the whale fake an orgasm in a recreation of the famous diner scene.

Not that the only highlights of the first season are from the parodies. Nicole Sullivan is outstanding in several sketches throughout the season where she plays the “Vancome lady”, a snide, rude person who takes different positions in the “service” sector, yet finds it hard to actually help anyone. Her quips at times seem almost cruel, and yet when one realizes it is a comedy show, you find yourself giggling.

MADtv: The Complete First Season
One difference between MADtv and Saturday Night Live is that MADtv often keeps a particular gag running through an entire show, and in one situation, even many different shows. “Lowered Expectations” is a series of short skits in which different individuals leave their video message as part of a video dating service. It is made crystal clear why these people do not have a significant other. These run through five or six of the shows towards the end of the season.Also present are some animated segments which are lifted directly from the magazine. The most famous is probably the “Spy vs. Spy” cartoons in which the black spy and the white spy face off against one another in their attempts to outdo the other. These can probably best be described as “James Bond meets the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote”.

It is always difficult to start a sketch comedy show, and the success or failure usually falls on the writing, but more importantly the cast. I am happy to say that in this instance the producers did a great job of gathering together eight rather diverse but extremely talented individuals. I have already mentioned Nicole Sullivan’s contributions (which go far beyond the “Vancome lady”), but also of note are Orlando Hudson (who went on to minor fame in a series of commercials for 7-UP soda), Bryan Callen (who does a spot on impersonation of Jim Carrey), and Phil LaMarr (who seems to be the “jack of all trades” of the program, appearing in a slew of hilarious sketches). LaMarr’s best moments are when he portrays the “UBS delivery man”, an extremely hyperactive delivery person.

MADtv: The Complete First Season
In what should have been obvious to the producers ahead of time, some of the weaker moments from the series occur when they abandon the sketch comedy and instead go with some segments of stand up from b-list comedians. The programs seem to come to a screeching halt when these occur, and I can only hope that these are banished from future seasons.

Shown in the broadcast 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the season is shot in a combination of both film and video, depending on what the sketch was about. In the film parodies, the transfer is clean and there is little or no film grain or artefacting present. In comparison, the video portions of the set seem to allow for some slight bleeding of the colors in some instances. Finally, some of the animated portions seem to be a bit blurry at certain points.  In total, the colors are bright and vivid and the flesh tones and black levels are good no matter what their source, but suffer from some of the failings outlined above. Overall, while the presentation is a good one, it could have been better in several places.

As you would expect, the audio track included on this release is a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix. There is no need for what would essentially be a waste of a 5.1 track, as the nature of the show (and its success) rests on great dialogue and/or visual gags. All of the dialogue is clear and extremely audible, and the music (what little there is) is strong but not overpowering. In fact, I found myself humming the show’s theme music at various point during the day. It’s addictive!

MADtv: The Complete First Season
One of the pleasant surprises of the set is the abundance of supplemental material present. Having said that, I can’t help but wonder at the inclusion of some. For instance, the 200th episode of the show is included here (something that is sure to be repeated if/when the 9th season is released). More question marks are the best commercial, movie, tv-show, music video and animation parodies from the first nine years. These are more sketches that I am certain will be included in future sets.

These two minor issues do not take away from the enjoyment of the other extras. I am a sucker for bloopers, and there are many included here. When viewed near the final versions, it seemed to make the mistakes all the more funny. Finally, there are nine more sketches included which were filmed but never aired during the first season. In essence, these are like getting a bonus episode (they clock in at about thirty minutes total). While it is clear to see why they never aired, their inclusion does give me the sense that I have a more complete set of what was accomplished during season one.

MADtv: The Complete First Season
I have to admit, I have always been a fan of Saturday Night Live. It is considered a classic show, and it has always made me laugh. I went into viewing MADtv with a certain bias that I wasn’t going to enjoy it. I could not have been more wrong. What I came away realizing is that these two shows can co-exist, as they each serve a different purpose and satisfy a different part of one’s viewing habits. While SNL serves up political humor, fake news and great musical guests, MADtv does parody better than anyone else out there. It remains true to its parent and delivers in almost every instance. Pick up this set, and enjoy the MADness!