Widely regarded as one of the finest shows MTV has aired, "The State" was a highly influential comedy series that aired on the network from 1993-1995. The show featured members of a comedy troupe from NYU, who now seem like an all-star team: Robert Ben Garant ("Reno 911"), Thomas Lennon ("Reno"), Kerri Kenney-Silver ("Reno"), Michael Showalter (the deeply funny and short-lived Comedy Central series, "Stella"), Michael Ian Black ("Stella"), David Wain (director of "Wet Hot American Summer"), Michael Patrick Jann ("Reno") and others.
While the series ran into rough waters towards the end (at one point CBS thought about grabbing the series to try and grab a younger audience against "Saturday Night Live", then decided against it after ratings for a "State" special were lackluster), "The State" otherwise went on a fantastically funny run for three seasons (which are all available in this set.)
Looking at the series again years later, it's remarkable how well the series did from the start. The bits are often absurdist and quite clever, such as the first bit from the second episode, which features a "West Side Story"-esque dance-off/fight between street thugs, a group of amish and, in a surprise turn, a pack of nuns. To the show's credit, it was often able to mine an incredible amount of humor from an incredibly simple, often bizarre concept, such as "Nutcracker Ballet in a Tiny, Tiny Room" from season 2's opening episode.
The fifth episode offers "James Dixon: Guidance Counselor", which features Lennon as the title character, a former Hollywood agent who pulls every trick to get kids through high school quickly. It's a incredibly funny concept (I'm surprised they haven't a film about a former Hollywood agent-turned-guidance counselor), but it's Lennon's marvelous performance and the "student testimonials" that take the bit to another level. Dixon returns in future episodes, once as a priest and again as a Jedi talent agent. Lennon's genius is also on display in "Jurassic Park", done as a one-man stage play.
Although the series tried to stay away from creating recurring characters, it managed to offer a few, including Doug, a hysterical rebel without a cause who tries to rebel against anything and everything - even when his dad or others try to be surprisingly cool. The character's tag line, "I'm outta heeerrreeeee..." is simple, but delivered again and again with little variations by Showalter, it's deeply funny. There's not a bad performance in the bunch, as the entire cast offers incredibly inspired, energetic efforts. What's really remarkable is that while the series has become dated in terms of appearance, it hasn't in terms of humor - I found many of episodes even funnier now than I did when the show first aired.
The set includes all four seasons of the series. The only issue is that the music cues have been changed, due to rights issues.
VIDEO: The episodes are presented by Paramount in 1.33:1 full-frame, the show's original aspect ratio. The footage does definitely vary; some sequences look reasonably crisp and clean, while others appear as if they were filmed on lower-quality video. Given the low budget of the series and the age of the show, I thought these presentations met my expectations. No pixelation was seen, nor were any instances of edge enhancement. Colors varied - while they often looked clean and natural, colors looked a tad muddy in some scenes. Overall, while a few issues were spotted, these presentations were not bad at all.
SOUND: Crisp, clear stereo audio, with dialogue that's easily understood.
EXTRAS: Every episode includes commentary from members of the cast - not all of the members comment on every episode, they break into groups and varying combinations participate on each track. The commentaries are a lot of fun, as while there are some pauses of silence here-and-there, the groups have a lot of fun recalling their time on the series and discuss the inspiration for characters and sketches, behind-the-scenes stories and production issues. These tracks are a lot of fun and are definitely recommended listening for fans.
Each of the season discs includes some entertaining archive interviews with the cast and quite a few worthwhile outtakes. The fifth disc offers a boatload of deleted sketches - 43 in all, all of which with commentary from the cast. The deleted footage is a mixed bag - some of the sketches get big laughs and should have been included, some fail and some are simply bizarre (a sketch with a bunch of irritated geese.) The final disc also includes the original pilot episode, an appearance on "The Jon Stewart Show", a performance from the 1996 special, "Shut Up & Laugh" (hosted by Norm McDonald, who looks like he'd rather be somewhere else); "Spring Break Safety Tips" and a god-awful MTV Christmas Party music video from 1994. Finally, we also get promos (including the famed "Miserable Crap" promo) and previews for other titles from the studio.
Additionally, there is a hidden bonus on the fifth disc that pokes fun at hidden extra features.
Final Thoughts: Years later, it's impressive how well "The State" stands up - even the lesser skits still get a good chuckle, and the best of the series is utterly brilliant. The DVD set boasts fine audio/video quality, along with a ton of extras. Very highly recommended.