STELLA (2005)

(DVD) An absurdist comedy from THE STATE members Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, and David Wain, this one-season wonder has its roots in Marx Bros-type anarchy. Michael, Michael, and David play petulant man-children who dress in formal suits, and literally run from scene, throwing words at the walls to see what sticks.

Here’s an example from the pilot (linked below):

“Guys, the landlord’s coming. We have to clean up!” [They plump the many pillows found through their otherwise visibly immaculate apartment, then they take up instruments in front of their door and strike individual poses. The landlord knocks.]

“It’s the landlord. Let me in.”

“Uh, we can’t! We’re in a tableau! You’ll have to use the key under the rug to let yourself in!”

[Landlord looks down]

“There’s no rug.”

(Michael, to Michael and David): “Guys, I forgot, I took the rug to be dry cleaned last month because it was filthy.”

[Michael opens the door]: “Here’s the dry cleaning receipt. You’ll have to pick up the rug.” [Michael closes the door. The landlord takes a cab to the dry cleaners. Michael, Michael and David are visibly uncomfortable maintaining their tableau. Landlord gets the rug, heads back, unfurls the rug, plucks the key from under, and opens the door.]

Michael, Michael, and David: “Don! What a surprise! Great to see you!”

How much mileage you’ll get out of this show will depend on how grating you find the characters’ tone, and whether you’re able to overlook their rivalry with their all-woman downstairs neighbors (including Rashida Jones in the pilot). None of them have the charisma of Groucho, nor the hapless naïveté of Harpo. There’s certainly no Zeppo. Despite that, the show represents a neo-vaudeville sensibility far better than any show I can think of in the past twenty years (with the possible exception of CHILDRENS HOSPITAL, but that’s a show for a different day).

The original pilot:

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