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'The State': MTV Sketch Comedy Ages Surprisingly Gracefully

the cover of the DVD set of 'The State'

The State: Even if you think you don't know these guys, you know these guys. hide caption

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The State, the MTV sketch-comedy show that ran from December 1993 to July 1995, became a bit of a legend for not being available on DVD. There were rumors, and then nothing happened, and there were theories about what the holdup was, and then there were times when it appeared that nobody knew what the holdup was, including the people involved.

Well. At last, The State has made it to DVD in a full-series set released today. And it was worth the wait.

The aging of MTV, after the jump...

The eleven-member comedy team behind The State includes a bunch of guys who, while not enormously mainstream-famous in an Apatovian kind of way, have gone on to become heavily cross-pollinated with most of the major comedy enterprises of the last, say, ten years.

If there's an Apatow axis in comedy and a Saturday Night Live axis, this is the Wet Hot American Summer/Reno 911! axis. Substantially less wealthy (for the most part), but no less highly regarded, than the others. Members include Michael Ian Black, Thomas Lennon, Ken Marino, Ben Garant, Michael Showalter, and David Wain.

The State, which a decent chunk of mainstream entertainment fans have undoubtedly never even heard of, is connected to everything from Night At The Museum (written by Lennon and Garant) to the Starz comedy Party Down (starring Marino) to the VH1 talking-heads comedy shows (like I Love The '90s) where Black appeared for years.

I would rate myself as only a mid-level sketch-comedy fan; when it's good, it's wonderful, but mediocre sketch comedy is one of my least favorite things to sit through, so despite its reputation, I didn't come to The State with any particular eagerness. But it really does hold up remarkably well, especially for something that was on MTV in the mid-'90s.

Honestly, what could be more likely to age gracelessly than MTV programming from fifteen years ago? Yes, there are certainly moments where it helps to remember what that period was like on MTV in particular — the insufferability of what Unplugged became, the double-insufferability of Dan Cortese on MTV Sports, and so forth. But it isn't really necessary; most of it feels perfectly current. The very first thing on the DVD is a very short bit about a kid calling his mother in to check for a bogeyman under the bed, and it's the kind of get-in/get-out joke that's just funny, and that they're smart enough to get in and out of quickly.

They did have to replace most of the music with generic tracks (as you can imagine, they had access at the time to an enormous amount of music nobody thought to license for future DVD releases), but unless you're a madly attentive fan of the original sketches, you're unlikely to mind. Honestly, it might help the show feel less dated that you're not actually hearing the popular hits of 1994.

Moreover, they've packed the set with plenty of commentaries and outtakes and extra material, so even for those who have slavishly saved VHS tapes of the show (someone has everything somewhere), it's worth a look.

There are a lot of delightfully weird ideas at work in The State, but it's an important bit of comedy history, in the same way as HBO's Mr. Show — it's a very rough-edged project from a lot of extremely talented people. And more than that, there's still plenty of material that will actually make you cackle, no matter what your associations with the MTV of the 1990s may be.

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