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 V.14 No.25 | June 23 - 29, 2005 

Idiot Box

Comedy or Confusion?

“Stella” on Comedy Central

With David Chappelle running off to a lunatic asylum (sorry ... “spiritual retreat”) in Africa on the eve of his show's third season debut, Comedy Central suddenly seems starved for sketch comedy. No need to panic just yet, however. Chappelle allegedly met with Comedy Central bigwigs last week, which could signal his return to television, and the network has paired returning sitcom “Reno 911!” with new sketch series “Stella” to beef up their schedule for the time being. That's not nearly enough for those who've already purchased “Chappelle's Show” season one and two on DVD, but it does offer a small respite from “South Park” reruns.

“Stella” should come as a blessing to fans of the late, lamented MTV sketch comedy series “The State.” Three of that show's performers--Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter and David Wain--are the writers/directors/producers/creators/whatever of this odd new child. “The State” was known for its offbeat, often surreal humor style, but “Stella” takes it a step further. Michael, Michael and David play Michael, Michael and David, a trio of unemployed, perpetually suit-wearing roommates who ... well, do stuff every week. Like the bastard offspring of a sitcom and a sketch show, “Stella” wends its way through assorted situations, some of which bear a passing resemblance to reality. But mostly, it's about the boys spouting whatever strange stuff comes to mind.

Stella, which seems to be the formal name of this comedy trio, are like that class clown you remember from high school who was either totally hilarious or functionally retarded, depending on which side of the aisle you were sitting. Within a few minutes of sparking up the television, you'll know whether the humor displayed in “Stella” is your cup of tea or not. Dry, weird and totally random, “Stella” is not an acquired taste. You either like it or you don't. Arguments over whether to listen to “funk rock” or “funk rock” either strike you in the funny bone or they miss it entirely.

There are those who might compare “Stella” to that hallmark of British sketch comedy “Monty Python's Flying Circus.” Stella aren't quite as surreal as the members of Monty Python, nor are their sketches as elaborately constructed. “Dumb comedy dressed up in a suit” is how Comedy Central is billing the show, and that's as apt a description as you're going to get. The show actually reminds me a bit of another classic Britcom, “The Young Ones.” Again, “Stella” isn't quite as elaborately surreal, but the idea of some comedians pretending to be roommates and engaging in assorted totally random adventures binds these two shows on at least a spiritual level.

It's great to see the quick wit of Michael Ian Black (late of NBC's “Ed”) pop up on something other than MTV's quip shows “I Love the '70s”/“...'80s”/ “...'90s”/whatever. And, as noted, fans of “The State” will be duly satiated. For the uninitiated, all I can say is give it a shot. You'll either become a rabid member of the cult or confused.

“Stella” premieres on Tuesday, June 28, at 11:30 p.m. on Comedy Central.

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