TV-MA, but that makes sense. The focus of the documentary is about how subversive The Dana Carvey show was. There's a lot of cursing. I don't know if anyone is going out of his or her way to be offensive, but I would feel real awkward watching this with my mom. I'm also probably glad that I didn't watch the actual Dana Carvey Show with my mom because I would have been the target audience for Home Improvement at the time.
DIRECTOR: Josh Greenbaum
Man, Hulu is killing it with their pop culture documentaries. I watch the serious stuff, too, guys. You've seen the reviews. But there's nothing that really grabs my attention about a pop culture thing that I don't know too much about that should be down my alley. I had heard of The Dana Carvey Show before, but I had never officially watched it. Some of the more famous sketches have crossed my path through YouTube and through social media, but I never really thought to check it out. I don't know if Hulu has full on convinced me to check the show out, mainly because I've now seen the best skits in short form through this documentary. But the story of The Dana Carvey Show is pretty interesting, even if the documentary probably lacks a little something.
I know that Dana Carvey disappeared from the comedy landscape for a long time. As far as I understand, there was some kind of illness that was keeping him away. I was a big fan of his era of Saturday Night Live and like many SNL fans, I tended to prefer the cast that I grew up with. I thought that he was one of the funniest people alive. What I didn't realize is that he had his own primetime show on ABC that may have gotten him in a lot of trouble. If you don't remember it, don't feel bad. They were cancelled after eight episodes, of which only seven were shown. What is more interesting than writing the memoirs of a show that barely rings a bell for most of my readers is who came out of that show. Louis C.K., Robert Smiegel, Stephen Colbert, and Steve Carell all cut their teeth on this show before dominating the comedy landscape. I know that Louis C.K. is an uncomfortable topic now, but all of those guys went on to crush on whatever projects they worked on after this show. This is really the story of those young guys and how far away they were from being the people they are today. That's what really grabbed my attention. Perhaps we've heard the up-and-comers story too often that we can be somewhat desensitized from that tale, but these guys just seemed so young and in over their heads. I know that they are subjectively old men now, but they really just wanted to create something that was really funny to them and were probably devastated to have that thing ripped apart from them. I mean, for many, that was their one chance. They were comedians on prime time television and that show was cancelled before it really found its audience. (That's not entirely accurate. The documentary stresses that it quickly lost its audience, most of whom found the material on The Dana Carvey Show more than mildly offensive considering that it was pretty raunchy stuff being shown on prime time on a recently acquired Disney network.) While the stuff about The Dana Carvey Show is fascinating, it is almost a documentary about the rise of Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert. I guess that might be unfair to Dana Carvey himself, but he seems to have nothing but absolute love and adoration for those two. Considering how influential either one of them is today, it's funny to see them talking about a show that almost no one had seen with them on it.
I don't know if I can recommend this documentary, though. Josh Greenbaum wrote, produced, and directed this documentary. He had to be a fan. It just screams "I'm a fan" all over it and it goes so down the middle of road in terms of presentation and adulation. There are the good guy creative types and the stuff shirted executive types. That's not the worst thing in the world, but this isn't an investigative documentary. The movie is formatted as a series of interview segments intercut with clips from The Dana Carvey Show. While the interviews are fairly entertaining, considering that the interviewees are charming and entertainers themselves, there is only so much that I can really take of cutting to the same people talking about the history of the show. There are about five to seven people who just seem to cycle through the narrative of what happened to that show. On top of that, there are glaring omissions to the interviewees. I feel for Mr. Greenbaum because I feel like he couldn't get these large personalities to participate or that they wouldn't have behaved for the camera. I'm thinking of Louis C.K. and Dino Stamatopoulos. Constantly referring to these two guys only brings to mind that they aren't telling their own stories. To compensate, they also bring in Bill Hader, who seems to be a big fan of the show. But cutting back to Bill Hader also shows a little bit of weakness on the part of the director. There had to be more fans of the show. The documentary, while professional and clean, seems to cut a lot of corners and feels like it was made in the course of a week-and-a-half. There's nothing wrong, but there's nothing really all that risky that makes this movie special. Instead, it often feels like a really well made special feature that would belong on the collected DVD of The Dana Carvey Show. It's more than a special feature, but not by much.
The title itself places the movie in an interesting place from a perspective of someone who didn't know too much about the subject matter. This is, inherently, a tale of failure. The movie starts with people expressing regret for the death of the show, which is fine. I actually like this bit. But the movie then rewinds to the beginning of the story with constant reminders that they should have seen the death of this show from moment one. This is where it gets either interesting or odd. I'm not quite sure yet. The interviewees keep stressing these choices that were made in the creation and execution of this show. Then they lament the choice that they made. However, they also praise these choices as the best possible choice ever. Colbert even points out the insane collection of talent on this show and verbalizes that he can't understand how it failed. Perhaps that's more of the message. I don't know if the movie actually ever comes to this epiphany or if it is simply subtext, but there really probably would have been no way for The Dana Carvey Show to succeed in the way that would have made anyone happy. Perhaps the death of this show is what made the comedians we love today so successful. I'm saying that it seems like they really made the show that they wanted to make. There doesn't actually seem to be any regret about the actual show itself, but they are so proud of it because it alienated people. Yes, there is a bit of regret that they sabotaged sponsors, but it quickly becomes the running gag over the course of the hour and a half documentary. It seems like the no win situation. If they hadn't made the show they wanted, they would have probably survived on the air. But then we wouldn't have these geniuses doing what they do best. They also would have had a mild show that probably would have died a sad and forgotten death versus an epic death that was unseen. There is no win in this situation. The studio wanted one thing. The creatives never would have made that thing so why try?
It is odd that I don't want to binge the entire Dana Carvey Show right now. I mean, it's right there on Hulu. I actually stumbled across it trying to find the documentary. It's not like I'm not absorbing way too much media right now. But there is something remarkably dated about it. I found myself laughing my rear end off during the clips, but these clips really did tell me that I found the good stuff. It's kind of the same reason I don't ever want to binge Saturday Night Live or Monty Python's Flying Circus. I know that I've seen the sketches that I really want to see. It almost seems a little more unfair to The Dana Carvey Show because I know that I could watch eight half-hour episodes in a reasonable amount of time. But it would seem like a chore. Also, there is the weird paradoxical thing of the fact that The Dana Carvey Show really seemed like a show ahead of its time, but it is littered with references to the time is was broadcast. I don't know if I'm itching to get a bunch of Bill Clinton or Joey Buttafucco references thrown at me as if they were topical.
The documentary is solid enough and the content is fascinating. I wish I got a little bit more out of it, but at least I got a lot of good laughs. Think of this documentary as an annotated "Best of" clip show of The Dana Carvey Show and you'll have a really good time with it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.