The Sarah Silverman Program strongly recalls Strangers With Candy, another cult favorite about an oblivious sociopath who always seems to learn the wrong lessons from her misadventures. The two shows share a genius for subverting well-worn television conventions in a way that betrays profound appreciation for the tackiest recesses of television’s past. But where Strangers With Candy fetishizes ugliness in all its forms—physical, moral, stylistic—The Sarah Silverman Program is almost oppressively adorable, a tune-filled romp through the depths of misanthropy and tasteless humor. Amy Sedaris is a beautiful woman who delights in looking like a human gargoyle, but Silverman has always played up the comic incongruity between her cuteness and the sometimes shocking and transgressive nature of her material. In The Sarah Silverman Program, as in her stand-up act, Silverman is a cookie full of arsenic. The show follows suit: It’s got the sunny look and feel of a summer-afternoon picnic, but the humor is unrelentingly dark and taboo-shattering. It’s a show ballsy and subversive enough to use Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)” for a bittersweet passing-of-time montage documenting Silverman’s many abortions throughout the decades.
The Comedy Central show casts Silverman as a mean-spirited narcissist happy to live off the largesse of her kindly nurse sister Laura (played by Silverman’s real-life sister Laura) in lieu of finding a job or any real purpose in life beyond ruining the happiness of others and coaxing strangers into paying attention to her. And she’ll do it by any means necessary, like suing the film Home Alone (not the makers of the film, the physical film itself) after accidentally killing a neighbor in a Home Alone-like stunt or entering a child beauty pageant as an adult. The star-creator-producer’s toxic self-absorption is undercut by the underlying sweetness of the two couples that make up the show’s ace supporting cast: Laura and her dorky, adoring cop boyfriend Jay Johnson (one of a number of Mr. Show alums involved with the show), and Sarah’s next-door neighbors Brian Posehn and Steve Agee, giant weed-smoking videogame junkies and the least stereotypical gay couple in the history of television.
Silverman’s eponymous vehicle—which she co-created with Rob Schrab and Dan Harmon, who was fired early on—might be the most casually surreal American sitcom since Get A Life. A typically absurd arc finds Silverman having a hard time shaking a distinguished-looking Morgan Freeman-like figure in a white suit she hooked up with for a one-night stand, because He’s, well, God. Later, she cynically exploits God’s lingering infatuation with her by taking Him to a high-school reunion solely so He can impress her former schoolmates after she learns that one of them is bringing the “O face” guy from Office Space. The situation is patently absurd, if not downright blasphemous, but the emotions become uncomfortably real when the God figure gets progressively drunker and more choked with jealousy and bitterness once He suspects Silverman is blowing him off and may have had sex with a former classmate.
In its three seasons, The Sarah Silverman Program seemed to be working its way through a checklist of politically loaded subjects—race, abortion, AIDS, homosexuality, gay marriage, bestiality, pot, terrorism, racial profiling, rape—but it was never shocking for the sake of being shocking. The show’s enduring fascination with scatology can be off-putting, mining the comic possibilities posed by poop, farts, butts, and dicks, but at least it does so with a connoisseur’s sense of craftsmanship. The simultaneously sly and juvenile, Sarah Silverman Program has the mixed legacy of being a smart, self-aware, playful, and post-modern show about some seriously stupid shit, literally and metaphorically.
Key features: Audio commentaries on many episodes and the series’ original pilot highlight a generous package of special features.