Wednesday

My New Love Is Named "Stella"


Comedy Central’s new program “Stella” may not be as funny as “Scrubs”, “The Simpsons” or “Arrested Development”, but it trumps those shows in originality and daring. And it’s the show where I laugh the hardest.

What started as a traveling comedy show mixing sketches, stand-up and performance art has become a surreal, bizarre, anything goes comedy that moves so fast and is so unafraid to lose it’s audience, you actually need to watch more than one episode to fully appreciate the achievement.

I’ll be the first to admit, I only laughed a little during the pilot episode, where stars Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter and David Wain (playing characters with the exact same names) are evicted and attempt to find a better apartment, only to take back their old place with the aid of disguise moustaches (a running gag.)

The joke that first caught my interest was when the landlord came for a visit. Black fluffed the couch pillows. Wain fluffed the bed pillows. Showalter opened a kitchen cupboard, pulled out a pillow, fluffed it and returned it to the cupboard. Later in the episode, Wain tried to win over a girl by walking in the pouring rain to her high-rise apartment. She opens the door, revealing Wain standing in the hall…where the rain continues to pour. (Never mind that she’s already married to Edward Norton, who plays Edward Norton.)

Episode 2 was significantly better as Black attempts to become president of the resident’s board. He turns the election into an all out presidential campaign, while an assassination subplot develops. Later episodes take aim at coffee franchises, office parties, dating, bullies and camping. All of it is told through a very skewed prism. Wain makes a classic “last minute race to the airport” only to stop because he’s hungry. Only to then delay further when the waitress sells him on the café’s signature dessert. (“Could you tell the chef I’m in a hurry? But don’t let him compromise the quality.”)

The trio work off each other with the crack timing you expect from three guys who spent years honing their act on the road. A specialty of theirs is the comedy rule of threes, where the third person just says something totally off the wall. While listing great American achievements, the third person to speak simply adds, “And now I say something.” They also use their numbers to hit their comedy targets from all angles. In "Coffee Shop", Showalter goes to work for Starbucks while Wain opens a groovy soho café. Black simply uses a folding table and serves customers coffee from Showalter’s Starbucks poured into Dixie cups.

Every episode also comes with special guest stars, like Paul Rudd and Tim Blake Nelson. My favorite is probably Sam Rockwell as a “moustache dealer”. Rather than describe the scene, take a look for yourself.

When I started watching “Stella”, I enjoyed it, but never to the point where I would feel brave enough suggesting it to others. There are still some uneven patches, especially when the boys “get crazy” and dance or throw stuff around. It happens at least twice an episode and it always goes on longer than it should. But the show gets better as you get used to its rhythms. The two best episodes to start with are “Coffee Shop” and “Meeting Girls.” And I DO suggest giving it two episodes before you pass judgment. The show’s not for everyone, but if you’re looking for something different and funny, “Stella” has some of the year’s biggest laughs.

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