The fertile creative minds behind The Sarah Silverman Program are the kinds of diversely comedic folks who can deconstruct sitcom convention in a wholly surreal world while still appreciating a good poop joke. The uproariously funny Comedy Central series, often brazen in its amorality and defiant in its weirdness, was probably lucky to get three seasons, and the relatively few number of episodes (32) ensures there’s not much of a dip in quality.
The good folks at Shout! Factory have done TV fans yet another solid by picking up where Paramount left off and releasing a complete series box set. Containing the previously released Season One, Season Two Volume One and Season Two Volume Two DVDs, and a brand new Season Three set, The Sarah Silverman Program: The Complete Series is a treasure trove of sitcom subversion, ridiculous musical numbers, unrepentant rudeness, animated digressions, and a genuinely sweet center that somehow doesn’t feel incongruous in the slightest. Oh, and poop jokes. Lots of them.
Sarah Silverman stars as Sarah Silverman, who in this alternate universe of Valley Village is an unemployed, unmotivated slacker often oblivious to social norms and expectations. Financially, she relies solely on younger sister Laura (real-life older sister Laura Silverman), a nurse with a heart of gold whose inherent goodness is a sharp contrast to Sarah’s utter narcissism and self-absorption. Laura’s boyfriend is Jay (Jay Johnston), an absurdly straight-arrow cop whom Sarah loathes, and the gang is rounded out by Brian and Steve (Brian Posehn and Steve Agee), Sarah’s geeky, pothead, gay neighbors (or gaybors, if you’re into the whole brevity thing).
The Sarah Silverman Program comes out of the gate exceptionally strong, delivering a six-episode first season that’s supremely assured in both tone and structure. Silverman created the show with Rob Schrab and Dan Harmon, and though Harmon wasn’t even around through the entire first season (Silverman fired him after a series of disputes), his brilliant knack for simultaneously celebrating and dismantling sitcom tropes persists throughout the series. As an aside, Harmon appears alongside Schrab and Silverman on what sounds like a fairly new commentary track for the original pilot in the set, and Silverman praises his genius, so things seem at least somewhat genial between the two.
Nearly every episode sees the gang gathering at local restaurant Romanski’s — where Eddie Pepitone is a line cook — and the show often exists as a genuinely enjoyable hangout comedy. Add to that frequent musical numbers and a nicely packaged moral at the end of every half-hour, and you have the makings of a happy little sitcom. A happy little sitcom where Sarah goes to jail for licking her dog’s ass, spends a day in blackface to better understand persecution, has a fling with the Almighty, struggles with adult bedwetting, comes out as a retarded person, tries to outdo her sister’s Holocaust memorial with a flashier version complete with dunk tank, and sings a song about the baby penis in her mind.
It’s hard to imagine a lot of this material working without Sarah Silverman at the center. She’s a fearless comedic talent and manages to pull off the difficult tightrope act of portraying an almost wholly despicable character but remaining likeable anyway. The supporting cast is also integral, especially Posehn and Agee, who are completely devoid of a single gay stereotype and become a convincing couple over the course of the series, in all their extremely petty glory — a great bit sees Brian’s ironic love of diet soda TaB escalate in ridiculous ways as each tries to prove a point, and the series keeps up with it, including their TaB-emblazoned car throughout the run of the series.
That attention to detail is part of what makes The Sarah Silverman Program so great — the continuity of minutiae and minor characters is preserved remarkably well for a series that has no problem pressing a giant reset button after something crazy happens to one of the main characters. It’s a brilliantly written and performed show, best appreciated by sitcom lovers with a warped mind.
The Shout! Factory seven-disc set includes the original Paramount releases in their original packaging alongside a new, individually cased season three set. Extras on the season one disc include musical performances, karaoke sing-along, and audio commentary on select episodes. Season two, volume one includes the cast and creators at a 2007 Comic-Con panel, a couple digital shorts, behind-the-scenes featurettes and audio commentaries. Season two, volume two is much the same, sans the Comic-Con panel. The newly produced season three discs contain some of the best material, including episode commentaries, a new retrospective writers conversation, a brief Q&A with some of the cast from 2010, some excellent behind-the-scenes bits for every season three episode, the original pilot with commentary, a couple animated bits and some audition footage, including two disgustingly hilarious short films by Agee.