I had almost forgotten how much I loved this show until Comedy Central released this Season One DVD. Strangers With Candy was an absolutely brilliant comedy that took the concept of After-School Specials and turned it on its head - then gave it a wedgie - and then gave it a swirlie. A decidedly weird parody of this respected but stereotypical genre, one which never feared to go farther than most people could even conceive of in its inanity and bold disregard of political correctness necessarily plays to one of two extremes: either you hate the show and refuse to watch anything so ridiculous again in your life or you, like me, develop an obsessive fascination and love for it. I'm frankly rather surprised to see this Season One DVD released, but my reaction to the news, alongside a mad rush to get it in my hands as soon as possible, was, to quote a favorite line from lead character Jerri Blank, "Good times. Good times."
Jerri Blank (Amy Sedaris) is rather amazingly representative, in her own special way, of your typical high school student. What makes this so amazing is the fact that she is a forty-six-year-old freshman. After thirty-two years of drug abuse, prison time, and who knows what else, she has returned home to pick up where she left off when she ran away from home. Flat Point High School is not your typical educational oasis, as becomes obvious immediately. Mr. Noblet (Stephen Colbert) and Mr. Jellineck (Paul Dinello) are two unique teachers who play a big role in Jerri's life, dispensing such tidbits of advice as "No one makes friends with a failure" and "You're only as attractive as we think you are," while enjoying an openly "secret" relationship of their own. The towering force at the school, however, is Principal Blackman (Greg Hollimon), whose educational theories are, in a word, unusual and whose narcissism knows no bounds. If you thought your old teachers were weird, you ought to take a look at these guys.
Jerri deals with many issues routinely covered in after-school specials: trying to be popular, dating, racism, dealing with peer pressure (as well as pressure from the principal and teachers), accepting a new student, coping with an extremely dysfunctional family (the most normal member of which, her father, appears only in immovable poses), and, of course drugs. In the very first episode, she turns to what she knows - brewing up drugs - in her effort to become popular, only to watch a stoned girl try to fly through a keyhole. Jerri can be a sympathetic character dealing with her step-mother's alcoholism one minute, and then the next she is assuming the role of an abusive husband to her baby care partner. This really is one of those shows you can't describe; you have to see it to understand it.
There aren't a lot of extras on the DVDs, but what is there is fantastic. The unaired pilot of the show was strange indeed, as it featured a much different look for Jerri, a step-mother played by the woman who would end up being Jerri's gym teacher, an after-school volunteer job for Jerri at a home for senior citizens, terrible music, and a completely different feel to the whole viewing experience. The commentary provided by the creators and stars of the show, Amy Sedaris, Stephen Colbert, and Paul Dinello, is great fun. While only four of the ten episodes from Season One include a commentary, the information, reference to gags and side jokes that I had missed up until now, stories about the sometimes seat-of-your-pants manner in which everything came together for each episode, and general humor they expressed at the sight of old scenes takes a Strangers With Candy fanatic such as myself to even deeper and more appreciative heights of humor and fun.
What is perhaps most strange about Strangers With Candy is its success at making good and relevant points about some of the serious matters it subjects to a humiliating treatment in the name of comedy. I'm not entirely sure it does this intentionally, though, because the main point of concentration oftentimes seems to revolve around seeing just what they could actually get away with doing on television. If you are content with the same old predictable humor that the networks recycle year in and year out, you probably should avoid diving into the deep end of the humor pool, but if you yearn for something else, something different, something so stupid that its brilliance shines forth like a shooting star zooming across a horizon populated by distant glimmers of comedic light, then you may just find something strange and beautiful and hilarious in this unforgettable show.