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Twelve years ago Saturday Night Live was devolving into Saturday Night Lame for the umpteenth time. The show was hijacked by pre-recorded shock. Instead of the normal prolonged sketch about high school wannabe cheerleaders, we were treated to an animated segment featuring the Ambiguously Gay Duo. This cartoon explored what we suspected about Batman and Robin. TV Funhouse became regular weirdness on the show. It varied from Ex-Presidents as superheroes to a revamping of Mr. T’s old cartoon show. Writer Robert Smigel became a sensation as his TV Funhouse segment overshadowed the rest of the show. Eventually Comedy Central got into the Smigel business.
Comedy Central’s TV Funhouse was a departure from Smigel’s SNL adventures. He had to create a show instead of interrupting one. Instead of being a collection of helter skelter sketches (as found on Robot Chicken), TV Funhouse declared itself as the last kiddie show of the night. Doug Dale was the human host. He hung out with the Anipals, a mixture of puppet creatures and live animals. The puppets had the same sarcastic attitude of Smigel’s Triumph the Insult Comic Dog that he performed on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. They viewed Doug as a tool to be abused. Even though each episode had a theme day, the Anipals didn’t play along or get dressed up like Doug. Freakish cartoons broke up the live action. But none of the SNL characters appeared. This was a fresh show.
“Western Day” launches the series with the Anipals splitting South of the border for a cockfight. Chickie learns the harsh reality of the sport when he steps into the ring. Doug is stuck back at the Funhouse playing a guessing game of out what the python ate. “Wonderman” has a superhero pimping his secret identity to women so he can get laid when not wearing the cape. “Hawaiian Day” has the Anipals rescue Chickie’s kid from a cult. The cartoon has Anne Heche, Robert Downey Jr and Margot Kidder as sleuths that stumble into crime scenes. This is still funny even if Downey has cleaned up his act. “Christmas Day” might be the only holiday special involving a spinal tap to create a snortable holiday cheer. “Mexicans Day” has Doug get ripped on tequila. He makes a new Anipal pal with the worm inside the bottle. “Fetal Scooby-Doo” might be coming from Cartoon Network soon.
The cartoon “Mischievous Mitchell” has Dennis the Menace as nasty bigot on “Caveman Day.” He forces a Jewish neighbor to eat ham. How was there not a lawsuit on this spoof? “Safari Day” and “Astronaut Day” send the Anipals to Atlantic City. They hang with Triumph. He’s a complete dog backstage. The cartoon of Steadman avoiding sex with Oprah is hilarious. This is why Smigel has yet to appear on the cover of O, The Oprah Magazine. “Chinese New Year” is the finale of the series. The Anipals go for the fast bucks of working in the lab.
It’s a shame that TV Funhouse only lasted eight episodes on Comedy Central. The show wasn’t a creative flop. The puppets are as rude and crude as they come. They didn’t water it down to be slightly naughty to appeal to grandmothers. The DVDs are completely uncensored. You get to hear Cheers‘ Norm from cuss. The animated shorts were on par with what Smigel did on SNL. This was a good freakish fun before Cartoon Network launched Adult Swim. If you get a chuckle out of Wonder Showzen, odds are high that TV Funhouse is your cup of Saturday morning weirdness.
“Western Day,” “Hawaiian Day,” “Christmas Day,” “Mexican Day,” “Caveman Day,” “Safari Day,” “Astronaut Day” & “Chinese New Year’s Day.”
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfers look sharp for video. The audio is Dolby Digital Stereo. It’s loud enough that you can hear the puppets squeak on occasion. All eight episodes have commentary tracks with Doug Dale, Robert Smigel & Dino Stamatopoulos. The trio tell plenty of stories including some about Adam West. There’s no subtitles, but the episodes are Closed Captioned.
Outtakes from Anipals and Doug (7:44) shows us how tough it is to have a turtle show off his private parts, terrorist rabbits bust through a door, a lizard get hit with goo and Doug roam naked in Manhattan.
Behind the Scenes (4:43) of Bob Hope being smothered to death and animals measuring up in a sauna. It takes a lot of work to make the puppet magic work.
Video commentary from Chickie, Jason, Xabu and Dave (6:46) has the puppets in the editing room watching a monitor. The sound is horrible. It hurt my ears.
Triumph on Rob Reiner Roast (8:15) has Meathead getting something better than an Oscar in 2000. This is uncensored. His attack on Vanilla Ice is vicious.
Triumph on Daily Show (5:16) starts with highlights of the puppet dog causing insanity at the Kennel Club show. He’s humping every thing with a tail. Jon Stewart looks so young without grey in his hair.
Lost Sketch (2:39) is “What Do We Know, Part 2” with Bob Odenkirk. This must have been funny on the page. It flounders on the screen as Bob (Mr. Show) spoofs the British hosts of educational shows. His life goes downhill during the segments. It really feels like a demo. Easy to see why this got cut.
Comedy Central’s TV Funhouse maintains its lunatic edge after all these years. This truly was a kid show gone off the deep end. Doug is the perfect host because he seems sincere in wanting to be the second coming of Mr. Rogers. The Anipals uncensored are even more extreme than you remember them from their cable days. There is plenty of fun left in the TV Funhouse.
Paramount Home Video presents Comedy Central’s TV Funhouse. Starring: Doug Dale, Robert Smigel & Dino Stamatopoulos. Boxset Contents: 8 episodes on 2 discs. Rating: Not Rated. Originally broadcasted: Dec 6, 2000 – Jan. 24, 2001. Released on DVD: July 22, 2008. Available at Amazon.com