The Upright Citizens Brigade: Season One (1998) – By Josh Samford

Rogue Cinema has expanded quite a bit in these months we’ve been in
publication. We’ve grown to become something more than just a webzine
covering your latest B-Movies or cult trash. There have been DVD
reviews, musical reviews and even a bit of the most absurd fanfiction
ever printed (by yours truly of course). So, I don’t find myself at too
much of a crossroads as to whether this review for the most insane
sketch comedy show ever imagined is ‘on topic’ so to speak, but I am
hopeful that at least a few of you will read this. So, who are the
Upright Citizens Brigade? What are they and where do they come from?
Well, in reality they’re a sketch comedy troupe from Chicago that
specializes in some… shall we say, rather off-beat humor. In the
context of the show however, the UCB is an organization based on
spreading chaos throughout the world with the ultimate goal being to
disrupt the status quo… for some reason or other. Their names are
Trotter (Matt Walsh, seen in Old School), Antoine (Ian Roberts, seen in Bring It On, or in a good movie, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy), Colby (Amy Poehler, who is now a superstar on Saturday Night Live) and Adair (Matt Besser, who you might have seen in the shortly lived candid camera-esque MTV show "Stung"
– though I pray you didn’t). Together they sit around in their super
secret headquarters where the monitor everyone and everything, trying
to throw as many curves into the sanity of human life as possible. As
you may can guess, these segments are often used as the basis from
where all the different sketches start from. Unlike many comedy shows
of this variety though, UCB is shot all on video with no live segments
(and thus no studio audience nor canned laughter, which has grown more
and more annoying since Python first started) and although at first the
random sketches may seem to be completely off the wall with no real
connection to anything, by the end of nearly every show a complete
revolution is made and things are back at the beginning. Always in the
most shocking and insane manner possible, but of course. The UCB sadly
has been slightly forgotten since being canceled, but with the release
of this Season One DVD, we can hope more fans will come around – and
even more important, that the rest of the series will see the light of
day; because as funny as this set is, their greatest work was still
ahead of them.

Now, when I say the UCB specialized in weird humor, you really don’t
know exactly what I’m talking about until you’ve actually seen the
insanity for yourself. I’ll just give a brief description of the very
first episode: The Bucket of Truth.
In the episode, we start off with a family buying a new home with a
real estate agent walking them through each room until he stumbles upon
the Hot Chicks room, which is apparently a room where "hot
chicks" party 24/7, although the room was installed in the early
eighties thus some of the chicks aren’t really all that hot anymore,
but the good news is that they’re replaceable. After this little detour
we’re introduced to the actual Bucket of Truth, which is just what the
name implied. A bucket of pure, unadulterated, unmitigated truth.
Unknown to this family, their daughter slips out the backdoor and
spends the rest of the day and night hanging out with the unabomber.
That’s right, the unabomber. It appears the guy that was caught wasn’t
the actual Unabomber, just some backwoods sociopath, and the real
Unabomber could never live anywhere so far away from the disco (erm, he
also talks with a lisp). All the while this is going on, across town
Officer Lunatic (that’s pronounced lu-na-dic) is slowly going out of
his mind worrying about the mysterious Bong Boy. A stoner who for some
reason is always on the scene whenever tragedy is at foot… getting
high. Lunatic, and his slightly mentally deficient son, live alone
after his hippie wife passed away and now Lunatic finds himself unable
to cope with her death and has become a suicidal rogue. This is
demonstrated when he finally tracks down Bong Boy and grabs his arm and
makes him start slapping himself ("Stop it!" – "I can’t make you stop,
you’re doing it!!"), such unconventional methods are surely the sign of
a desperate man. So, while the little girl is missing over at The
Unabomber’s house the parents make due and try to enjoy company – but
wouldn’t you know it, that ol’ Bucket of Truth gets in the way. I won’t
spoil the conclusion (which is kind of ridiculous since we’re talking
about a twenty minute program), but let’s just say there’s a giant John
Woo inspired shoot-out, bombs, bongs and the most disturbing dance
routine ever concocted.

The Season One DVD is put together nicely in a box set containing two
discs with ten official episodes all together, but once you start
counting the commentary tracks and bonus features the disc becomes so
much more. Included on the disc is the original pilot episode (also
with commentary), which sort of shows the rather cliché direction the
series could have taken had it followed the traditions of the past and
kept the live audience rather than sticking with the filmic aspects it
later utilized. All together there are about seven commentary tracks,
all of which are absolutely hilarious. Including an alternate
commentary track featuring Little Donny and his family on the "Little
Donny" episode. For those who aren’t aware, the Little Donny episode
was the one time where they deviated from being strictly a sketch
comedy show and made a spoof of those infomercials ‘for a good cause’,
usually about starving kids in Africa or poor mountain families. The
Little Donny foundation however tries to help cure a disease named
after Little Donny himself; his disease, more specifically, is the fact
that he has a massive penis but remains completely unaware of it. Yeah,
that’s just the kind of show this is. Other commentary tracks are on
the episodes "The Bucket of Truth" already mentioned, "Power
Marketing", "Cyborgs" (arguably one of their best episodes) and "Time
Machine" (which also has a lengthy live Q&A afterward that is
hilarious all the way through). There’s also a deleted scene called
Highland Epoxy and two live bits from the UCB back when they were doing
stage shows, including the origins of the previously mentioned Little
Donny bit. The picture quality is fine, though we’re not exactly
talking about something bolstering amazing cinematography here now are
we. Full frame and everything shows up without any splotches or
pixelation, I can at least promise it will look a whole lot better than
those grainy VHS tapes me and my friends used to trade back in the day.
It always sucked being the only guy who didn’t get Comedy Central.

So, with all of this said, how can you not be interested in this show?
If you aren’t, chances are you’re a very boring person. If not, I
apologize, then it’s probably on account of your really bad tastes. The
Upright Citizens Brigade, if you want my very humble opinion, is
probably the most original and genuine sketch comedy show in the past
twenty or so years. Sure, they built upon what others started, as with
Kids in the Hall, Python, The State, etc. But never have I seen all the
right buttons pushed so often with as much comedic design. So, I won’t
deny it, the UCB is most definitely my favorite troupe of all time, and
hopefully this ranting will persuade someone else to give them a try.
For thirty bucks you could spend your money on worse things. Like
crack. Or a diseased prostitute, but really, now I’m just getting gross
and off topic. For the love of all that is holy, check out the UCB –
and keep an eye out for any hippie looking guys walking around with
their bong out and sporting some dreadlocks, those guys are never
around when anything good happens.