Stiller Still Stellar in FX Retrospective

by David Bianculli

THE BEN STILLER SHOW. Sunday at 6 p.m. FX.

This weekend, the most inventive sketch series since
“SCTV” gets its due– even though that due, at this point,
is six years overdue.

“The Ben Stiller Show” premiered on the Fox network
in the fall of 1992, and lasted just long enough to see the
calendar change to 1993. Only 13 episodes were made– and
Sunday night at 6, the FX cable network unspools all 13 in a
welcome, comprehensive, 6 1/2-hour retrospective.

What made Stiller’s show so delightful? (This isn’t revisionist
history, by the way; I raved about “The Ben Stiller Show” when
it premiered.) Three things: a great cast, an inspired comic
sensibility and the best segues between skits since “Monty Python’s
Flying Circus.”

In addition to Stiller, who’s now a movie star thanks to his
self-effacing turn in “There’s Something About Mary,” the small
core cast of “The Ben Stiller Show” also featured Janeane
Garofalo (also a movie star now), Andy Dick (“NewsRadio”) and
Bob Odenkirk (who, today, enjoys the sort of outsider comic
status Stiller did then).

Most skits presumed a pop-culture appetite and awareness
somewhere around the level of Dennis Miller.

The pilot episode, for example, not only featured Stiller imitating
Bono, lead singer of the rock band U2, but also featured, as
Bono’s former manager, guest star David Madden, reprising his
“Partridge Family” role of road manager Reuben Kinkaid. In the
same show, Stiller plays Eddie Munster in a “Munsters” episode
crossed with the Robert De Niro movie “Cape Fear” — with
Stiller imagining, and approximating, how De Niro might have
played his psycho ex-con role, Munster-style. (In the same skit,
Garofalo does a devastating lampoon of Juliette Lewis’ lisping
teen.)

Other shows in the marathon provide a second, or first,
opportunity to watch such nicely twisted comic gems as “Counting
With Bruce Springsteen” (Stiller’s Boss on “Sesame Street”); Dick
as Woody Allen in a monster-movie Allen flick; a grunge-rock
“Monkees” update called “The Grungies” and, most outrageously
of all, Stiller* as Charles Manson. Charles Manson, that is, if
Manson were a loyal human pet, like an incoherent, babbling,
wild-eyed, bearded Lassie.

“The Ben Stiller Show” didn’t have a set. Stiller hosted the show
by filming on the street, joking around with his writers and cast
members (Garofalo, in these segments, is especially clever and
charming). These bits were used, though, to set up and bridge all
the other comic films and pieces, making each half-hour comedy a
self-contained gem.

Collect them all. Trade with friends. Fox made a mistake by axing
this show the first time; don’t make the mistake of missing it a
second time.

copyright 1999 New York Daily News.

Originally published September 31, 1999

[*Note: Bob Odenkirk, rather than Stiller, played "Manson" in the sketch of the same name]

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