Directed by Amanda Bearse
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 131 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo surround English
MSRP: $ 26.99
Release Date: April 29, 2008
Review Date: April 16, 2008
Cable specialty channels have proliferated tremendously in the last decade. Now virtually any specific interest group has a channel dedicated to those interests. The Logo network is a gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered channel offering programming directed especially to those groups and their friends. The Big Gay Sketch Show is exactly that: a sketch comedy show in which the skits all have either gay themes, gay characters, or some kind of camp appeal. Like all sketch shows (all the way back to Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows), the program’s quality varies widely from skit to skit. The sketches that work are fall down funny. The ones that don’t are groan inducing even to the most generous audience. I found something to howl about in every episode, but I didn’t find any episode that was riotous from beginning to end.
Eight comic actors make up the cast: Erica Ash, Dion Flynn, Julie Goldman, Stephen Guarino, Jonny McGovern, Kate McKinnon, Nicol Paone, and Michael Serrato. Each has his own strengths as a performer: some are better at physical comedy while others do impersonations well. All eight go in and out of the opposite sex’s drag effortlessly and often to devastating effect. Over the course of the six episodes contained in this first season set, one naturally develops favorites. Stephen Guarino, Nicol Paone, and Michael Serrato made me laugh more consistently than the others, but they all have their effective moments during the season.
Like all sketch shows, the program develops recurring sketches which, even when they don’t pop up in every episode, still make one anticipate them with some vigor. Four recurring skits highlight season one: gay classic sitcoms (gay riffs on three decidedly heterosexual comedies - The Facts of Life, All in the Family, and The Honeymooners), Logo Life Tips (Stephen Guarino and Jonny McGovern play two dense gay men trying to offer helpful household hints like making your own glitter or homemade rock gardens), Johnny McGovern playing a straight man who turns into a gay werewolf one full moonlit night each month, and Kate McKinnon playing the gentle English lad Fitzwilliam who’s eager to give his father a daughter if only he‘ll give him the vagina for Christmas that he‘s wanted for years.
And yet it’s four single skits which for me stood out from the pack during this inaugural season of the show. There’s a hilarious parody of a big hit on Bravo with Political Project Runway. A group of four gay men watching a 1983 Gay Pride Parade make some salient comments about what they see and feel about their present and future lives. Lesbian Speed Dating condenses the beginning, middle, and end of a love affair into a three minute quick date with surprising candor. And best of all, we get Nicol Paone playing the legendary stage star Elaine Stritch as a Wal-Mart greeter. To get the unending string of gags, one must be very familiar with the Tony and Emmy-winning actress’ stage show At Liberty and her infamous meltdown during the recording of the Company cast album (filmed in a D.A. Pennebaker documentary about the making of that record). For those in the know, the skit is among the funniest five minutes ever seen on television. All others would look on in utter bewilderment.
In the bonus features, we see that the shows are taped in front of a live audience in New York City, but I had my doubts as I watched each episode unfold since the producers have loaded the soundtrack with a very loud and occasionally annoying laugh track. Are the producers so unsure of their audience that they must resort to sweetening the real audience’s response with canned guffaws? The shows are funny enough to stand on their own, but no show is belly laughs from beginning to end. You’d never know it listening to the response of the audience in every episode on this DVD set.
The program’s original 1.33:1 aspect ratio is transferred faithfully to this DVD package. The shows are colorful, and the transfers are sharp, solid representations of what appears on the network. Lacking anamorphic enhancement, there are some minor jaggies and some pixilation, but overall the show’s first season looks fine. Each episode is divided into 6 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo surround tracks are very center channel-centric. Laughs and applause do reverberate from the other front speakers and there is some weak leakage into the rears, but this is TV sound at its core.
The set offers a second disc of entirely bonus material culled from network promotions and internet activity as well as other bits which were taped but not aired.
The set offers three bonus sketches deleted from individual shows (wisely as none of the three are comically strong). They can be viewed individually or in a 5½ minute clump.
There are individual interviews with all eight stars of the show as well as director Amanda Bearse. The actors are candid talking about their sexuality, how they were cast in the series, and their show business backgrounds. Together the interviews run 21 ¾ minutes though you can watch any of them independently from the others.
Julie Goldman’s Celesbian Interviews are five mock interviews with five power lesbians (or in one case a lesbian group). Not especially funny, the interviews together last 19½ minutes but can be watched separately.
Behind the Scenes offers five segments (together running 9 minutes total) showing the actors in their dressing rooms prior to the taping, some backstage antics and introductions to the writers, craft services people, a brief condensation of a “Fitzwilliam” skit from conception to execution, and some fairly funny bloopers.
More Big Gay Stuff has some cybernet content from the Logo website involving “Team Pimp,” a rock band organized by Jonny McGovern and their resultant music video, some Julie Goldman practice standup comedy material, and some additional Logo promotion features. This runs 12¼ minutes in all.
The first disc in the set presents previews of two other series on Logo now available on DVD: Rick and Steve and Noah’s Arc - Season 2.
Sometimes hilarious and always well intentioned without a lot of cynicism or meanness, The Big Gay Sketch Show was enough of a hit to warrant a second season of episodes (also coming up in a DVD box set). For those who have interest in the material, it’s fast, funny, irreverent comedy.