I don’t really know if Strangers With Candy was before its time, but its definitely a show of its own breed and doesn’t fall too much in line with other comedies. It’s a satire about Jerri Blank, a 46-year-old former “boozer, user, and a loser” who resorted to prostitution, drugs and prison, and then decided to return to finish high school as a freshman in her mid-40s. That sounds terribly depressing and not even remotely funny, but creators Stephen Colbert, Paul Dinello, Amy Sedaris and Mitch Rouse use this backbone to prod, make fun of, and flip on its head all the themes and moral lessons that would fill after-school specials. They take it so far over the top each episode including the most politically incorrect and mouth-a-gap punchlines all to lead Jerri into learning the worst lessons ever. Jerri learns lessons among others such as your outside appearance is more important than your inside, rich people are more fun and worthy people than the poor, selling drugs is a good way to make friends, steroids are a good option to help with winning a track-meet, and never encourage the handicap because they’ll always end up hurt. Some prime life lessons I think we all can agree with.
It should come as no surprise that this came from Stephen Colbert, the guy who remains the master of satire on his aptly named The Colbert Show, satirizing the political pundit types on FOX News and the positions held by those on the right. Paul Dinello has also wrote for the show and pops up here and again to play different characters and such. Now the thing about satire is you actually have to be relatively cognizant to know that these are jokes and sane people know that none of this is actually true. But, of course that’s the point, poking around these lessons, social situations, morals, racism, sexuality and pointing out the absurdities and ways that these things can get twisted. Because sadly, there are people who believe racist ideas, and are sexist, or believe certain religious ideals for the weirdest of reasons. A lot of this balances on a thin line, and it’s easy to see people being susceptible to it and how easy it is to fall into, but Strangers With Candy never lets us forget how absurd and silly it all is, especially from such a compounded character.
I started off with wondering what other shows Strangers With Candy is like. It’s not a mockumentary of late like a Modern Family, The Office, or Parks And Recreation. And it’s not really a cringe-worthy show like Curb Your Enthusiasm or Peep Show. But, fittingly it’s quite like its Comedy Central cohort in South Park. Both shows rely on seemingly dumb and trivial jokes that seem to come from the mind of a pre-teen, but are almost always propped up by a deeper message of a societal critique or parody of a common-held belief system. No matter how vulgar or demeaning a joke becomes in either series, it’s usually furthering something in the juxtaposition of content and message, and leads as further evidence to back up the satiric element they are focusing on. Well… most of the time, because sometimes dick jokes without any context are just plain funny.
That’s what I like about Strangers With Candy, it never guides your hand or makes sure you understand that this is a work of comedy and satire, it plays everything straight and never winks at the audience to any effect of “Yeah, we know this is silly, but you all know we’re making a joke, right?” This show falling into the hands of the dumbest and most gullible person on earth would be the biggest WMD you’d ever see, and would create the most vile and unforgiving person. But, we’re of course smarter than that, and recognize the affront to these types of moral driven specials, and special episodes of sitcoms meant to drive home that one particular theme. It takes some of the sillies and dumbest ideas and jokes to make one of the smartest, sharpest, and critical shows of the last twenty years.
(They won’t let me embed this on here, but here’s a good YouTube compilation video of all the “morals” and “lessons” that Jerri learns, in case the concept of what I’m trying to say is lost on you, or you just want to enjoy them again: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CH-9tVbKCM)