(Paramount+/VOD) The late 90s/early naughts was a great time to be a comedy TV nerd living in Chicago. ImprovOlympic (RIP, IO) was thriving, you had Chicago alums UPRIGHT CITIZENS BRIGADE on the air, and it was followed by STRANGERS WITH CANDY, which was chock-full of entertainers who cut their teeth at Chicago’s Second City, including a little-known comedian named Stephen Colbert. Also, Paul Dinello, aka Geoffrey Jellineck? His uncle, Dan Dinello, taught at Columbia College when I attended. Sadly, I never had him as a prof, but I felt a certain amount of weird pride whenever I walked by his office because I loved this show so goddamn much.
(All three were also in Comedy Central’s under-watched, but CableACE-award winning EXIT 57 sketch comedy show.)
STRANGERS WITH CANDY can be simply explained as: ‘What if we had a SCARED STRAIGHT TV show where the junkie goes back to high school after being in jail for 30 years?’ Amy Sedaris played ‘junkie whore’ Jerry Blank (who consists of an array of endless ticks), Colbert was a recurring teacher as was Dinello, and Greg Hollimon played the straight-man/school principal.
For a show whose premise was paper-thin, they managed to wring a surprising amount from it. It lasted for three seasons -and a movie-, and the show was never less than hilarious. (The less said about the movie, the better. It’s not awful, but the premise and writing could never sustain itself for more than ~24 minutes at a time.)
I hesitate to call STRANGERS WITH CANDY a dark comedy, because while it exacts a lot of humor out of bleak and cruel topics, its characters are rather ebullient and resilient, despite hvaing everything thrown at them in every episode. That said, it’s definitely twisted in a very Gen-X way.
I could elaborate on the strange and straight-laced characters, the colors, the awkward editing, but it’s best you find out for yourself.
The following is not a trailer — just part of the first episode: