“Here comes trouble with a capital S.”
– Officer Jay (Jay Johnston in “Bored of the Rings”)
You know how when you go in for your eye exam, the doctor shows you two different slides and asks, “Which is better, number one or number two?” While for most of us, it’s hard to distinguish as they continually flip mirrors around and ask us to read nonsensical vision charts, my guess is that when anyone from The Sarah Silverman Program goes in for an appointment, they always go for number two. And after getting the instant gratification juvenile laugh at saying, “number two,” when asked again if they’re presented with two completely different slides, they’ll keep right on saying “number two,” until they’re fitted with specs or contacts so blinding that they don’t realize that you can’t build an entire series around number two.
Sure, one joke here and there keeps the masses entertained but as Mike Myers learned with the crass Love Guru, after awhile, if all you’re dishing up are repetitive jokes about number two and all of the bodily functions and parts connected to that area, the comedy itself is going to make the entire show seem like number two and find people reaching for the remote to put on any other channel not associated with that number.
This being said, I think Sarah Silverman is one of the funniest comics working today. I love her courageousness and ability to take real risks with her material as evidenced in her uneven but wildly hilarious film Jesus is Magic (that was best when on stage and a disaster when off) or in small film roles like in I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With. However, when you find her reined in on basic cable and unable to say some of the things that make her hilarious, obviously there’s a creative blockage that happens (no pun intended) and the result is nothing but two.
In Season 2, Volume 1 of The Sarah Silverman Program which arrives on DVD on October 14, Sarah and Laura Silverman, Brian Posehn, Steve Agee, and Jay Johnston are back reprising the roles from the first season, and in the sparse six episodes they manage to tackle such hot button topics as abortion, illegal immigration, racism, and a number of other things I won’t even begin to repeat here. With an extra disc filled with bonus materials featuring the cast and creators at 2007’s Comic-Con and behind the scenes clips, and digital shorts, it also contains audio commentary by those involved including Sarah Silverman, commenting on her childish, self-obsessed television alter-ego who causes destruction, offense, and chaos with each step she takes in her adorable sneakers.
When it works, The Sarah Silverman Program is hilarious as Sarah finds herself lured by what she assumes are merely lesbians bearing baked goods until she unwittingly discovers she’s joined an anti-abortion group and reasons at the end of the show to her conscience and dog Doug that, “some of the best pastries are made by terrorists dressed as lesbians.”
"Bored of the Rings" Clip
Or in another episode where the simple board game Life makes Brian and Steve question the gay marriage law when they debate over whether to put a blue or pink peg in their car — making Brian and Steve consistently funny go-to guys for great subplots when they’re not just playing a gay twenty-first century version of Cheech and Chong.
In perhaps the most daring episode, “Face Wars,” after she’s denied entrance to a country club to play tennis because of her heritage, Sarah and an African-American man argue over whether it’s harder to be black or Jewish, prompting Sarah to don blackface for the rest of the episode. While the action is justifiably one of outrage when she first hits the street, per usual for the show, Sarah is somehow confused as someone fighting for the greater good to open up a dialogue about race before she’s nearly assassinated… accidentally, of course.
"Face Wars" Clips: The Hate Crime
Reasoning that “it’s like I’m the only open-minded person,” the show takes another dive with an entire episode titled “Doody” until the entire set nearly redeems itself with “Ah, Men,” which finds Sarah falling back into a relationship with God (an older, handsome and well-dressed African-American man) and despite his tendency to be clingy and jealous, inviting him to her high school reunion to make a classmate jealous.
"Ah, Men" Clip
While the concept of the final episode “Maid to Border,” is priceless as Sarah gets her maid deported when she fears the worst, the big plot twist and turning point comes unfortunately south of the other border in the form of number two. And even more unfortunately, this choice upstages two far more hilarious subplots as we discover Brian’s deep-dark secret of only having the Spin Doctors '90s track “Two Princes” on his iPod and Officer Jay’s lifelong ambition to do character based “Gentle Comedy.”
"Maid to Border" Clip
Needless to say, in just these mini-summaries and clips alone, there’s enough good stuff involved to make this a must-own for her devoted fans and a must-rent for those who like cutting edge button-pushing comedy. Additionally, I applaud the courage to take on such politically charged topics and approaching them in such a simple yet meaningful way like the game of Life episode which illustrates a heterosexist pop culture and bringing up campaign issues like racism and the pro-choice debate with such humor.
Yet, while one doesn’t want to begin to preach or make their points so transparent, The Sarah Silverman Program turns to a “message show,” by bringing literally every one of these topics and situations down with incessant jokes about number two and other actions I’m still trying to block from memory (as in one episode Sarah gets far too close to her 13-year-old Chihuahua/pug mix, Doug), ultimately our minds close instead of open. Essentially, the entire program could be solely sponsored by the inventors of the Whoopee Cushion or public service announcements about the importance of colonoscopies.
If a toilet on basic cable never stops running, will anyone flush it? Of that, I really can’t be certain but the result will be in the ratings and sales. And ultimately while we know just how intelligent Silverman, her cast-mates and those behind the scenes are, we hope that somehow they’ll begin to realize that the success of the show isn’t in the number of toilet jokes you can fit into twenty-two minutes.
No, rather it’s in challenging its viewers to look beyond some of the mayhem and understand the genius behind the madness — if only the makers of the show cast the insecurity aside and realized just how truly groundbreaking their comedy show could be, if only they left their plungers at home… or perhaps got a new eye exam and asked if their was a number three.
Bonus Clip Unavailable on the DVD: Sarah's Emmy-Winning "I'm F***ing Matt Damon" from Jimmy Kimmel Live