Just how much animal sex can you get away with on basic cable? A shockingly huge amount, if the tardy DVD release of Robert Smigel's short-lived 2001 cult show TV Funhouse is any indication. If The Emmys were to introduce an award for excellence in the field of drugged-up interspecies orgies, TV Funhouse would win it in a landslide. Smigel's warped labor of love (the audio commentaries make clear just how much backbreaking labor went into each episode) smuggled all sorts of perversion and subversion inside an innocuous-looking faux kids' show that no kid should ever be allowed to watch.
The show's format was as simple as it was flexible. Every week, guileless, sunny human host Doug Dale would introduce the show's theme ("Christmas Day," "Hawaiian Day") and enthuse about his buddies the Anipals, cuddly puppet critters who invariably ditched their host in search of kinky sex and sustained highs. While the Anipals bottomed out, Dale would show the kind of satirical, pop-culture-crazed cartoons that have been Smigel's specialty on Saturday Night Live, from "Wonderman," a superhero concerned exclusively with getting his alter ego laid, to "Fetal Scooby-Doo." (Guess the premise.)
TV Funhouse reveled in strangely perfect juxtapositions, combining real animals with disconcertingly realistic-looking puppets in ways both funny and deeply unnerving. Once glimpsed, the image of a real cow contemplating sloppy hamburgers at a cannibalistic restaurant where animals eat their own kind is difficult to forget, even with years of therapy. Smigel and his creative team perfectly replicate the look and feel of the kiddie schlock they're satirizing, whether it's Dennis The Menace reborn as a gleeful racist ("Mischievous Mitchell") or cornball educational films. Like the simpatico, even more extreme Wonder Showzen, TV Funhouse unleashes the rampaging id lurking behind the placid, well-scrubbed surface of kiddie television, and takes an outré premise about as far as it can go. On the refreshingly candid, revealing audio commentaries, Smigel bemoans all the ideas he never got to execute when TV Funhouse wasn't picked up for a second year. Yet Family Guy has proven that a cult show needn't stay dead permanently. It's possible that seven years on, pop culture will have finally caught up with TV Funhouse—cannibalism, inter-species fuckfests, and foul-mouthed George Wendt cameos included.
Key features: Great audio commentaries on every episode, from Smigel, Dale, and executive producer Dino Stamatopoulos.