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DVD Review - The Weird Al Show - The Complete Series

August 27th, 2006

"Weird Al" Yankovic and Saturday Morning Kids Show should have gone together like peanut butter and milk chocolate. However, for a number of reasons, The Weird Al Show only lasted 13 episodes before being yanked from the airwaves. But nearly 10 years later, the show is finally out on an official DVD release. Has the show aged like fine wine, or did the network do the right thing in pulling the pug?

Spoiler-Free Synopsis:

"Weird Al" Yankovic plays "Weird Al" Yankovic, at least a more annoying, man-child, version of himself. In the show he is an inventor that lives deep under the earth in a cave with his best friend in the world, Harvey the Wonder Hamster and every week an adventure, and an educational lesson, seem to find their way to his cave.

Other main characters include:

  • The Hooded Avenger: Al's neighbor and super hero. His main role in the show is to spell out the educational lesson by delivering incredibly earnest lines and delivering them with conviction. Since the network demanded the educational lessons had to be stated so bluntly, and so often, this was a thankless role but one that Brian Haley does well.
  • Val Brentwood - Gal Spy: Another of Al's friends, like her name implies, she's a spy. She's the only one on this list that was ever a bad influence on Al and has shown a nasty streak on occasion. Also, her outfit is a little too tight for a Kids show. She's played by Paula Jai Parker, who has been in plenty of movies since the show first aired including last year's Hustle and Flow and the recently released Idlewild.
  • Cousin Corky: Al's Cousin, hence the name. Closest thing to normal on the show and is also the only character to be the focus of more than one episode, besides Al himself. Danielle Weeks, who plays Corky has done a ton of guest spots on TV shows, including the psycho girlfriend on an episode of Titus.
  • Madame Judy the Psychic: Played by stand up comic Judy Tenuta. Her only supernatural skill is her ability to get Weird Al to actually pay her money, which makes her as psychic as any of her real-life counterparts. Anyone familiar with Judy Tenuta's stand up act will instantly recognize a lot of her performance in this show.
  • Bobby the Inquisitive Boy: His role was to come into the cave and ask Al strange questions, usually as a setup for an educational film clip (one of the recurring bits in the show). The character was annoying, but no more than it was supposed to be. It almost felt like he would have been better suited for a parody of Saturday morning kids show, which would have been a much more successful show. Gary LeRoi Gray has gone on to do plenty of voice work, has had a reoccurring character on Even Stevens and was even in Bring It On: All or Nothing, which I reviewed last week.
  • The Announcer: Due to network interference over the way the educational lesson was handled, the creators finally decided to use an announcer for this purpose. Fortunately, they hired the talented voice actor, Billy West for the part. You might not recognize the name, but he has lent his voice to a number of animated characters including Fry on Futurama and Stimpy on Ren & Stimpy. He also played the announcer on Ren & Stimpy and uses almost the exact same voice here. Even if the show was remade as a adult parody of educational kids show, they should keep Billy West as the announcer, just give him funnier lines to deliver.

The next section contains spoilers, click here to skip to the Special Features section.

Movie Review

Before I get into the actual review, I need to mention something. When I watched the DVD for the first time I wrote a lot of notes about my initial reactions. Then I watched all 13 episodes again with the audio commentary on and each and every point I wanted to make was covered in the commentary tracks, sometimes using nearly the exact phrase I wrote. ("Anything educational on this show is purely accidental" vs. "Most of the education on this show is accidental.") I bring this up for two reasons: One, my sense of humor meshes very well with the creators of this show and this explains why I enjoyed the show as much as I did (at least with the commentary tracks). Two, it made this review very difficult to write as all my best lines were taken.

On to the show... Essentially, The Weird Al Show is a variety show for kids complete with guest stars, recurring bits, and even music acts. Since the plot generally takes a back seat to these, it is easier to merely state what worked and what didn't.

What worked:

  • Fred Huggins and his puppet sidekicks, Poppa and Baby Boolie. Easily my favorite bit. Fred Huggins is best described as Mr. Rogers on Quaalude and is the closest thing to an adult parody on the show. There's a disturbing element about having an obviously mentally unstable man being a host of a kids show, and the raw contempt show by Papa Boolie and his son is not something you would expect to see on a show aimed at 2 to 11-year olds. The bits get even more demented when you add in the audio commentary.
  • Mysteries of the Universe. These are educational movie clips with the audio removed and a new voice over added. Because the video is untouched and just new audio added, it has a sense of surrealism that adds to the entertainment value. Some are better than others, but overall they are very funny parody, but not as good as Fred Huggins.
  • Commerical parodies. Products ranging from Pirate Daycare to Silly Choice Dinners and even movies like 60% Chance of Rain. These bits are perhaps the best showcase for Weird Al's creative talent as he is a master of parody and works best on short clips. As mention in the audio commentary (and in my notes), this is the closest fans will get to a sequel for UHF. And while not all of them are top notch, overall they added a lot to the entertainment value of the show.
  • Guest Shots: Sprinkled throughout the show were guest shots ranging from Gilbert Gottfried, Emo Philips, Dick Van Patten, Teri Garr, Dweezil Zappa, Michael McKean, etc. Most of these people are either friends of Weird Al, or those he has worked with in the past, especially those he worked with on UHF. There's no chance the target audience knew who half these people are, but for the adults watching, they added some additional entertainment value to the show.

What didn't work:

  • Nutritional Break. Weird Al comes up with strange and disgusting food. I'm sure kids everywhere love the concept of gross food, but it is something I've outgrown.
  • Musical Acts: On the one hand, it was quite impressive to have live musical acts on a Saturday morning kids show, and they were well produced. On the other hand, not counting Weird Al himself, I only recognized two bands, Bare Naked Ladies and Hanson, and I'm not a fan of Hanson. Granted, some of the acts I'd never heard of before were good (All 4 One, for instance), but for the most part the bands were not a selling point for me. It should be noted that the music done for the show was catchy... a little too catchy. More than once this week I caught myself singing Fred Huggins' "I'm a Little Kitty" song, and Harvey the Wonder Hamster's theme song will burrow into your head like some kind of parasite.
  • All the Educational Bits: The Educational aspect of the show was easily the worst part. It was so blunt that it usually brought the show grinding to a halt. Also, because it relied on the, "Kids are stupid, better repeat the lesson 40 more times, " method of teaching, they can't have been effective at teaching kids either. I don't know why the network insists on doing that. Here's a little insider information: the average kid watching Saturday morning kids shows is smarter than the network executive who helped put it on the air. In short, had they removed all the educational bits, the show would have become more educational as a result.

While most of the times the episodes were uneven, some did stand out and worked as a whole, not just as a collection of bits. This including The Competition, featuring Val Brentwood showing off her dark side (there were some audio and video issues on that episode, unrelated to the censoring of the song, but that wasn't enough to stop it from being my favorite episode). Also, The Talent Show and Al Plays Hooky were good (both focusing on Cousin Corky more than Weird Al). Strangely, the shows were shown out of production order, both when they were originally aired and on this DVD. And for the most part, they generally get better as the series goes on. Perhaps if they had gone with more of the stronger episode earlier, and actually promoted the show, the show's ratings would have been good enough for the show to survive.

Special Features:

Audio Commentary tracks
All 13 episodes have an audio commentary track with Weird Al, Thomas F. Frank, and Payton Reed. Sometimes they are joined by guests like Judy Tenuda, Emo Philips, and Danielle Weeks. The tone of the tracks range from heavy sarcasm to outright misery. Okay, that's not entirely true, but this is not a fluff piece praising the show and everyone involved. They complain a lot about the copious amounts of studio interference and how that adversely affected the end product. As "Weird Al" stated, the audio commentaries were more like therapy sessions than audio commentary tracks. The best part of the audio commentaries is that they knew their audience. While the network wanted a show for 2 to 11-year olds, these three knew that it would be mostly adults buying the DVD set. This meant the conversation was a little more on the mature side and certainly non-"kid friendly" topics were brought up, like drinking games. (You really want to get hammered, take a shot every time someone says, 'Uvula.') These are some of the best audio commentary tracks I have ever listened to, and I've listen to a lot of them.

Fatman Storyboards - With Commentary
All six Fatman episodes are presented in Storyboard form with or without commentary. I know what you are thinking. You're thinking, "But there were only five episodes of Fatman ever made!" This is true, but a sixth episode was storyboarded, and even had the voice tracks laid down. Unfortunately, the voice tracks were lost after the show was cancelled. The commentary tracks are not done by Weird Al and the others, but by the animation crew. These are not as entertaining as the other commentary tracks, but there are some good information given here, some funny stories, and they all end on the same lame joke.

Show Theme Karaoke
You can listen to the theme song and sing-a-long. There are two versions, one with the vocals and one without. Because of improper chapter placements (more on that later), I had to listen to the theme song about three dozen times. I never want to hear it again as it has become the background music in my nightmares. I'm not joking about that.

Image Galleries
Each disc has an image gallery on subject like the evolution of Fatman, the evolution of the set design, and a series of publicity shots.

The Big Three

All TV on DVD releases have to deal with the big three: Subtitles, Proper Chapter Placement, and the Play All Button. This set misses all three. There are no subtitles, which is a real shame since I like to listen to the audio commentary while reading the subtitles. The better the audio commentary tracks are, the more important this feature becomes. As for chapter placements, they use the commercial breaks. While that makes sense, they should also have one after the opening credits so you don't have to listen to them over and over again as that song slowly threatens your very sanity. ... Moving on. It does have a play all button, but you can't use that with the audio commentary tracks, so it only gets partial credit for that. In fact, if you use play all and then change the language track to the audio commentary, it will turn it off at the end of each episode. Frustrating.

Conclusion:

If the 3-disc set for The Weird Al Show merely contained all 13 episodes, I couldn't recommend it for anything more than a rental. And even that might be a tad generous. There was a serious amount of creative differences between the filmmakers and the studio (the former being creative and the latter not). The studio's insistence on spelling out today's lesson in such a ham-fisted way, and then repeating it throughout the show over and over and over again killed much of the entertainment value the show had. Sure, the cast and crew worked hard to make it work and there were glimpses of brilliance seen in the show (the aforementioned Fred Huggins, for example), but these were beaten into submission by the 'educational' lesson. Overall the show didn't work as a kids show, as an educational show, or even as just plain entertainment.

However, watching the show with the audio commentary on is a whole other experience. The three participants bring a wealth of information about the show and how it was created, the level of studio interference, etc. More importantly, it gives the show a much more adult edge. (Although there were some glimpses of this in the show itself, like the brief mention of mud wrestling between Brad Pitt and Cindy Crawford. How did they get away with that?) I don't think I've seen a DVD set before that had its special features raise the value of the show to such a degree. It lifts this 3-disc set from a half-heart rental, to a solid buy for most people, and a must have to all "Weird Al" fans.

Peace out!


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