Thursday, September 02, 2010
Netflix Friday #13: STRANGERS WITH CANDY
Oh, yes, you all know David Sedaris. Meet his funnier sister.
Amy Sedaris co-wrote a clutch of plays with her brother, did the hip improv circuit for a while, then transitioned to television. As the story goes, one night her friends Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello ...
... yeah, sure, I'll let that sink in for a bit.
... Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello showed her a tape of an inspirational speaker, one of those women recounting a life of prostitution, drug addiction, alcoholism and sexual antics far beyond the safe paths walked by men such as Keith Richards. They dreamed up the idea of such a woman -- the hyper-addicted, racist, omniverously sexual Jerri Blank -- returning to high school.
Strangers With Candy was born.
Each episode of Strangers is framed like an Afterschool Special or ABC Family show gone horribly, horribly wrong. You know the episode of your standard family sitcom, where the high school student is given an egg to care for, to teach them the responsibility of caring for a baby? Hijinks ensue!
On Strangers, they run out of eggs. So Jerri and her female best friend get a real baby. Which, at one point, Jerri attempts to sell, all as her relationship with her female best friend spirals into an abusive white trash sexual burn. She makes drugs so she can be friends with the cheerleaders. She tries to seduce her study partners, male and female, using her ... ugh ... "Liberty Bell." She puts on a puppet show for a "crippled boy" that ends in a bloody apocalypse. She joins a cult that ultimately rejects her after she urges them on to mass suicide. Her father's in a coma; her stepmother's a raging alcoholic; Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello play teachers who share both a forbidden love and a deep hatred of their students.
Sedaris is remarkable in this show. Her Jerri is over the top and also logically consistent within the perverse alternate reality of the show. The physical transformation is amazing; Sedaris really stands out as a comedian willing to toss away her own good looks and join the British tradition of homely self-mockery.
All the episodes end in tragedy, a fair number in death.
Oh, and in dance. They all end in a dance number.
The show is monstrously politically incorrect, but for a point. The real versions of these shows, even the modern iterations, are part of the Agnewization of television (hello, Glass Teat). They all end with messages that reinforce conforming to the existing social order. (And yes, I'm looking at you supposedly subversive Glee on supposedly risky Fox)
The beauty of each Stranger episode is that, in theory, the plot is played straight. Despite the bizarre characters moving within the world, the events arrange themselves to impart a valuable lesson. And, wonderfully, Jerri manages to come to exactly the wrong conclusion at the end of every episode. Because she is horrible.
Strangers with Candy, Seasons 1-3, are your Netflix Streaming recommendation for this weekend.