I don't want to claim too much for the movie. I am not, however, asserting that the people behind Strangers With Candy intentionally put everything I've written about it into the show and movie. It's clear from the group interview at the Museum of Television and Radio, included on disk 4 of the complete series DVD, that they were aware of the ground rules by which they played, but both the series and the movie are so good because those rules fully express the group's ironic intuitions. These are people who know how to stay in their lane while relentlessly chasing laughs.
At the same time, the dialogue is as imitable as in any comedy in recent memory (e.g., Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan , Napoleon Dynamite , Romy and Michele's High School Reunion , and Clueless ). The writers have a low-comic genius that also involves brain-teasing wording like nothing I've ever heard. In the series, for instance, Mr. Noblet asks a question so incomprehensible that his students fail their midterm exam before taking it simply by raising their hands. (If you want to see line-crossing low comedy without wit, and that's syrupy despite its irony, rent Another Gay Movie .)
Other neat tricks include the way the teachers confuse the students' interests with their own. When Mr. Noblet insists on grooming Jerri as a concert violinist, he tells her, "I am the only one who can help you realize my dreams of yours." There's also the way the characters lie, transparently, to evade the consequences of their behavior (e.g., "I wasn't pushing you away, I was pulling me toward myself"), or the way they say what they mean without exactly meaning to (e.g., "Look, there's a really ugly rumor I'm about to start, and I want to make sure I've got it right"). This last is an especially important verbal component of the show's nightmarish quality. And the nightmare never ends because these verbal and mental contortions infect your thinking and speech. When my boyfriend recently answered an accusation with, "Believe me, if I had done it, I would be the first to not admit it," I knew he had a dose as bad as mine. (And I believed him.)
Strangers With Candy has a lot more going on in it than the very funny Borat, another movie expanded from its star's TV work. As the whole world (including several courts of law) now knows, in Borat, the Englishman Sacha Baron Cohen plays the eponymous Kazakh TV news anchor who comes here to make a documentary about America for the benefit of his homeland. Cohen's m.o., perfected on Da Ali G Show, is to speak to people on camera who don't know he's putting them on and get so outrageous that the interviewees either figure it out, make asses of themselves, or get so angry they end the conversation. (It's like the premise of Allen Funt's Candid Camera pushed right up to the point of deceit, harassment, assault, and battery.) In the movie, Borat and his producer travel cross-country from New York, which enables Cohen to patch together the most successful of these stunts in an ironic version of a quest romance. (Initially his quest is for "cultural learnings" but then switches to a pursuit for the hand of "virginal" Pamela Anderson.)