Stella: Season One

In the "History Of Stella" feature included on the Stella first-season DVD set, irreverent Stella trio Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, and David Wain recount a skeptical Comedy Central suit asking them if they could be funny without sucking on dildos or dry-humping each other. The executive's concerns were well-founded: Stella's videos have a way of devolving into gay sex as a lazy default gag. Thankfully, Comedy Central's no-dildos-or-gay-orgies dictum is one of those restrictions that spur creativity. Without the crutch of free-floating raunchiness to fall back on, the trio were forced to tone down the crudity and self-indulgence that intermittently marred their earlier work. At the same time, they preserved their loopy absurdism and finely honed chemistry.

Stella's ads promised "dumb comedy dressed up in a suit," and much of the show's appeal comes from the contrast between its striking visual elegance—with its cinematic look and refreshing absence of a laugh track—and the giddy ridiculousness of its plotting and gags. The members of Stella look like buttoned-down CPAs, but they behave like mildly retarded third-graders on a sugar bender. Stella masters the tricky comedy of regression: In one episode, the boys engage in an evenly matched war of wits with a 10-year-old bully.

Stella's plots are as untethered to the realities of the world outside of television as any Saturday-morning cartoon. Like Chris Elliott's Get A Life, the show pushes the ridiculousness of sitcom plotting to surreal levels. In one episode, the cast gets lost in the woods, and over the course of a single desperate night, they revert to cavemen, completely with inexplicable Neanderthal facial hair. It also doesn't hurt that Stella was able to dip into its Rolodex and nab heavyweights like Paul Rudd, Edward Norton, Sam Rockwell, and Topher Grace for supporting roles.

Comedy Central cancelled Stella after a single season, but its cult status is already secure, and its reputation will only grow. Besides, considering the crap that stays on the air, getting cancelled almost qualifies as a badge of honor.

Key features: Audio commentaries on every episode, deleted scenes.

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