Since it went off the air in 1996, The State’s legend has soared alongside the careers of its cast members, who went on to form the core of Reno 911! and the entirety of deadpan wiseacre group Stella. The show’s unavailability helped create a tidal wave of nostalgia: Thanks primarily to licensing issues involving songs used in sketches, The State is only now finally receiving the DVD treatment previously extended to cultural treasures like Mama’s Family.
A comedy graduate school of sorts for unusually talented young people, The State took loving aim at its network, MTV, and its core demographic. Like The Ben Stiller Show, The State was a product of its time, a fast-paced, pop-culture-crazy sketch show that spoofed fleeting cultural ephemera like MTV Sports. The first season in particular plays like a rock ’n’ roll Gen-X juggernaut paced to accommodate the short attention spans of Ritalin-addled teens. Even if a sketch didn’t work, a new one was always just a few minutes away.
The MTV influence began to dissipate in ensuing years, as the writer-performers became more confident with their comic voices and fell back less often on fare designed to please their corporate bosses. The troupe quickly leaned on the crutch of recurring characters, but found ways to subvert sketch-comedy tropes from within. Michael Showalter’s Doug, for example, is a would-be slacker rebel whose attempts to revolt against corrupt authority fall flat because he’s infinitely less cool than the authority figures ostensibly oppressing him. The State took catchphrase banality to its comic extreme by introducing Ken Marino’s Louie, a character who exists solely to make goofy faces and utter his nonsensical trademark, “I wanna dip my balls in it.” The State often feels like the product of kids barely out of college, but it benefits from the energy and inspiration of youth. Michael Ian Black, Kerri Kenney, and Thomas Lennon stood out in a ridiculously talented cast that didn’t always find time to showcase the gifts of all 11 members. The State may not live up to fans’ rose-colored memories, but now that MTV has injected the show back into the pop-culture bloodstream, it’s nice to see that the reality more or less backs up the myth. With the benefit of hindsight, we can now see The State for what it was: uneven, a little dated, but often very funny, and littered with moments of authentic genius.
Key features: A rich cornucopia of extras, including candid audio commentaries, interviews, outtakes, unaired sketches, and the pilot.